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Ivan Andreev

RIAC Expert

Recent elections in Poland revealed some features of the contemporary political life common for many European countries. Despite the victory of traditional parties, new forces came up and in the future they may define the political landscape of the European states.

Recent elections in Poland revealed some features of the contemporary political life common for many European countries. Despite the victory of traditional parties, new forces came up and in the future they may define the political landscape of the European states.

Analyzing the outcomes of the elections to the Polish Parliament, we should understand the balance of power on the Polish political arena and its correlation with the state of affairs in other European countries. The victory of Donald Tusk’s party “Civil Platform” (CP) that won nearly 40% of votes at the Parliamentary elections in October 2011 was not a surprise. Obviously, particular role in the success of the party is attributable to the thoroughly designed image of the leader who avoids sharp moves and statements, demonstrates a weighted cautious attitude and an emphasized propensity to a compromise. Another important role was played by the economic stability of Poland – the only EU country that didn’t experience GDP reduction during the crisis.

Tusk’s behavior in CP generally differs from the style of his main competitors – Yaroslaw Kachinsky’s party “Law and Justice” (L&J) who got about 30% of votes. During the ruling of this party – from 2005 till 2007, Polish political scene was shaken by scandals nearly every month, and most often they were initiated by L&J.

Competition between the two right parties

Prior to Tusk’s victory at autumn 2007 elections, some observers believed that his pointedly cautious political style would put the voters off. But it turned out that his behavior was beneficial for the party that contrasted itself against the scandalous environment of the Kachinskys.

At the same time L&J showed good results on previous elections: Kachinsky managed to keep his supporters at bay. It should be remembered that at Presidential elections of 2010 Yaroslaw Kachinsky was very close to the current country leader Bronislaw Komorowski – the gap made only 5%. The competition between CP and L&J defined the political life in Poland for several elections cycles already, though both parties have more commonalities than differences. Both parties stemmed from one political camp – from the alliances that go back to the famous “Solidarity” trade union and represent one and the same political tradition.

CP and L&J come from the right part of the political spectrum. The Tusk’s party has a more liberal image while Kachinsky is actively playing with paternalistic expectations and borrows the agenda items from the left parties.

During the ruling of the Kachinskys, deputies from Tusk’s party supported in the Parliament many principles initiatives of L&J. Having come to power Tusk didn’t initiate full-scale investigations of the scandals around L&J, though he had all possibilities to do it. Tusk also could have made a different comment about the role of Lech Kachinsky in the Smolensk tragedy in April 2010 that killed about 100 representatives of the Polish establishment including the President. But it didn’t happen. Under these circumstances the fight between the parties turned into the competition between the leaders.

Failure of the Polish leftists and the “Palikot's Movement”

The two right parties set the tone for political life in Poland after the defeat of the leftists – “Democratic Left Alliance” (DLA) party in 2005. The party still has not recovered to its former shape and, moreover, its degradation goes on. At October 2011 elections the Polish leftists got a humiliating low number of votes – only 8.25%.

We may assume that the key reason is the loss of the political face by the party. DLA, in fact, differs little from CP in view of the tactical objectives in the current policy. It’s no coincidence that mass media discussed the possible coalition between DLA and CP.

Political parties turned into the voting machines that blindly follow their leaders.

DLA leaders were unable to offer an alternative to right parties. But it was done by “Palikot’s Movement” – the headline sensation of October elections. Alliance of the millionaire and former member of CP Yanusz Palikot came out with slogans many of which are natural to leftists: anticlericalism, the protection of sexual minority rights, the liberalization of abortion legislation and guarantees of gender equality.

During the electoral campaign Palikot stated that he intends to change the relations between state institutions and citizens, eliminating a “huge formal-bureaucratic system”. It’s indicative that his movement doesn’t include experienced politicians; instead he puts a stake on the well-known public people – such as journalists, defenders of sexual minorities’ rights and leaders of feministic movement. Key campaigning events were personal meetings with voters and communication in Internet.

The success of Palikot who got more that 10% of votes is an alarming signal for traditional players on the Polish political arena. Election results of his alliance show that many voters are disappointed with the key political forces and there is a demand for new actors in Poland.

The elections demonstrated that the set of fundamental values remains the same for all political parties, except for the “Palikot’s movement” which is a revolutionary innovation for catholic Poland. There is an opinion that a demonstratively reconciliatory approach of Tusk’s party and L&J may be explained by the wish not to burn all the bridges in view of the future coalition government.

We may witness the replication of a recent situation in the political history of Germany when CDU/CSU and SPD created the so called “large coalition” in 2005-2009. Doing that they actually confirmed the absence of a real alternative between them and sharing a wide base of common political values. This typical European phenomenon when two parties, replacing each other in power with a certain frequency, determine the policy of the state is now attributable to Poland as well. This situation partially confirms the theory of Max Weber, who stated that political parties turned into the voting machines that blindly follow their leaders. In his opinion, the importance of a charismatic party leader inevitably goes up. We may add that under such circumstance the importance of the ideology in the program, strategy and tactics of the party goes down. The ideology becomes a part of the party brand, necessary for a successful political marketing.

The “Pirates” and other alternatives

It may be assumed that on the given background (not to forget the ongoing economic crisis) the attractiveness of forces that proclaim the renovation of a political life is increasing. With some stretching these forces may be regarded as non-systemic. The growth of their popularity in noted in some EU countries.

E.g. in Germany the role of the “Palikot’s movement” was played by the Pirates party. At the elections to the land parliament of Berlin in September 2011 this party got 9% of votes. The “Pirates” consider themselves as “political amateurs”. They advocate direct democracy, introduction of a minimum income guaranteed by the state and, similar to “Palikot’s movement” stand for the legalization of soft drugs. The “Pirates” also defend the freedom of Internet, stating that the world web should help to make political life more transparent.

In the eyes of voters the attractiveness of new political forces is linked with the alternative they make to the ruling party tandem and the accumulation of protest moods.

There is little point to mention that non-systemic movements can not be attributed to any ideological niche. E.g. “Palikot’s movement” is characterized by a weird mixture of liberal trends (introduction of a flat income tax rate, reduction of state role in the economy) with traditional leftish slogans (fight for the sexual minority rights, equality of genders and limitation of church role in social life).

In this respect the growing of extreme rightists’ popularity in France is worth mentioning. The rating of Le Pen, the leader of the National Front is always on the uprise. This phenomenon can hardly be explained by the topicality of the immigration problem. What is important – it’s the alternative to traditional political forces that the National Front offers to the voters.

The success of the “red-greens” in Danish elections also attracts attention. This is a weird alliance of former communists, Maoists, Trotskyites and the greens. At the elections in mid-September 2011 they got nearly 7% of votes, improving the previous result by two times.

The commonality of new political leaders is expressed by the slogans calling to change the organization of political life, their support by young people, active use of the Internet technologies and demands typical for leftist movements (e.g. – equal rights for minorities and state guarantees of income for the population).

Taking into account that new forces are mainly supported by the youth that actively assert itself on the European streets and the economic problems inevitably which add to the agenda the issue of the adequacy of current political mechanisms, one can hardly expect the popularity of new political alliances to fade away fast.

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