>Polish elections: SSEES roundtable debates Civic Platform’s (uncertain?) prospects

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Meanwhile, before you can say ‘Jaroslaw Kaczynski’ there is a (well attended)roundtable on the Polish elections at SSEES, where Aleks Szczerbiak struck an interestingly sceptical note about the durability of Civic Platform’s victory. Donald Tusk’s party has, he thinks, perhaps put together an unfeasibly broad electoral coalition based more of rejection of the incumbent government than support for a liberal-consevative centre-right. It had hoovered up votes of those who incline to more to the post-communist left, which was wrongfooted by the speed with which early election were called. Moreover, the Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS) party remained, he thought, remained a poweful force having gained both voters and voters in a way not wholly reducible to taking over the electorate pole-axed radical parties Self-Defence and the League of Polish Families (LPR) (cut loose by Radio Marija, which backed PiS). PiS, it was suggested also had a powerful and coherent conservative-national narrative based on the project of a ‘Fourth Republic’ cleansed of the pervasive influence of an informal establishment (Uklad) of left-liberal communists-turned-capitalists and shady characters. Tusk’s PO, by contrast, travelled rather light in terms of ideology stressing modernity and decency. The idea of young, educated migrants and the emergeny middle classes turned on conservative, rural Poland was something of a myth: only about 30, 000 of the 750, 000 Poles in the UK voted and thir liberal votes were probably counted out by the Law and Justice inclined ballots of a similar number of Polish Americans in the US. Moreover, any coalition with the Peasant Party (PSL) would be tricky, given the latter’s inclination to play hardball on all kinds of issues, ruthless extract policy concessions for their rural base and use state posts as patronage resources to sutain their party (Civic Platform want to decentalize and clean up, but I wondered can you really build or sustain a party in CEE these days without a dose of clientelism and patronage?). Civic Platform and its new government might like so many previous Polish election winners fall apart all too soon.

Others speakers, including my SSEES economist colleague Tomasz Mickiewicz who doubles as astute poltical analyst, saw PO as having better prospects. There was ample scope for privatization – about 20% of Poland’s GDP is still in the state sector, second only to Russia among post-communist states, apparently. (Ironically, Law and Justice’s Gaullist dislike of privatizition had deprived it of resources for its social spending commitments). Moreover, its rhetoric of European modernity and a free market with functional welfare, he thought had been effective – the party had managed to reinvent itself as something else other than a elite, secular liberal party indifferent to national tradition and religion. Mass emigration to the UK and Ireland had given Poles a clear sense of just how this could work – migrants might not count much electorally, but they were cultural vectors for change in small town and rural Poland, perhaps enabling PO to puncture PiS economically populist warnings of impoverishment all round. Apparently, some Poles also see Ireland’s political model of two (broadly speaking) right-wing parties and a rump social democratic left as as desirable as its Celtic Tiger economic policies. Ireland’s chronic patronage and clientelism probably also offer an (unintended) parallel…

The roundtable was finished off by a very fluent and engaging review of Polish foreign policy by Nat Copsey, who foresaw a change of tone in Poland’s EU policy as well as its external relations with Russia and Ukraine, masking a lot of underlying continuity. In part this was because the Terrible Twins’ foreign policy, while less than comptently managed, were less terrible in practice than their public comments often suggested.

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