Polish protests
Monday, 01 October 2012 17:54

ANTI-GOVERNMENT protests at the weekend saw an estimated 50,000 demonstrators in the streets of Warsaw, under the slogan "Wake up, Poland". Most were supporters of Law and Justice, the biggest opposition party, which is eurosceptic and conservative on social issues such as abortion and gay rights, but veers towards socialism on economic policy.

Today, Law and Justice kept up the pressure by saying it would attempt to unseat Donald Tusk, the prime minister, in a vote of no confidence, proposing Piotr Gliński, a sociology professor, as his successor in a technocratic government. Given the government's majority, this seems to be more of an exercise in political theatre than a realistic objective.

Law and Justice party chief Jarosław Kaczyński had appeared to be losing his mettle. Eschewing economic debate while Poland averted the global financial crisis, he instead obsessed with the death of his twin brother, the last president, in the Smolensk air crash. Mr Kaczyński has suggested it was not an accident, but surveys show only about 10% of Poles ever subscribed to the assassination theory.

Now that the country's traditionally good growth is slowing, Mr Kaczyński is attempting more constructive tactics, albeit with plenty of drama. Reaching out to struggling small businesses and state employees threatened with lay-offs, he promises to support the poor with benefits and to set back the centrist Tusk administration's unpopular structural reforms. Extraordinarily, he even arranged a forum to discuss the slowdown with leading economists. But several declined to attend. Jacek Rostowski, the finance minister, a former economics professor and formidable rhetorician, was not invited on the grounds that he isn't "serious".

Thus far, Law and Justice's fresh energy has done little to close the popularity gap with the government, which continues to lead in the polls. But Mr Kaczyński is successfully adjusting to a threat on his right wing from Zbigniew Ziobro, his one-time protégé and former justice minister. Mr Ziobro has a reputation for advancing an ultra-conservative agenda with a disregard for due process. He was once tipped as Mr Kaczyński's favoured successor. After rumours that he was planning a party coup, he was fired from Law and Justice before founding a rival political group named United Poland.

Mr Kaczyński has returned to the fiery rhetoric that alienated his mainstream voters in the past: "Poland has awakened. More and more Poles will be awakening. The cup of evil has overflowed. We Poles, we Polish patriots say 'no'," he reportedly told demonstrators on Saturday.

Such language plays well with listeners to Radio Maryja, run by Tadeusz Rydzyk, a Redemptorist priest, whom Mr Ziobro has tried to court. Critics of the station, many of them Catholics themselves, dismiss it as only representative of the bigoted fringe. (Only a small minority of Poles actually tune in.) But its motivated following tend to vote: this means a lot in Polish elections where there is typically low turnout, and Law and Justice have grown to depend on Radio Maryja's endorsements.

Recent news has played into Mr Kaczyński's hands. Father Rydzyk's television station, TV Trwam, has been barred from digital broadcast on the grounds that it has not provided the broadcasting council with enough financial data. The council is led by a former ruling party official so Mr Kaczyński is crying foul play.

Last month, it was proven that bodies of the victims of the Smolensk crash were mixed up before burial , including the corpse of Anna Walentynowicz, who many see as the wrongfully neglected founder of the Solidarity movement. Mr Tusk made a public apology. Law and Justice's working-class Catholic supporters see this incident as yet another betrayal of the original values of Solidarity by the immoral elite and affirmation that Mr Kaczyński is their champion.

The ultra-liberal Palikot Movement, which became the third political force at the last election, is trying to legalise abortion. Some public opinion surveys show that most Poles would welcome the legislation. Opponents of it will rally to Mr Kaczyński to stop it.

Mr Tusk is due for his current term's second policy speech within two weeks. Much of what Mr Kaczynski is doing now looks as if it had been designed to make the speech an experience as uncomfortable as possible for Mr Tusk. The premier may well be tempted to water down the most ontroversial aspects of his reform programme and focus on non-partisan issues.

Though Poland should keep its head above water it appears Mr Tusk's new excuse for procrastination could be that Poland's economy is not healthy enough for major change. He recently said: "We don’t want to impress anyone with some sort of reformist zeal. We are deeply convinced that we know what we are doing and we don’t need to make any demonstrations."

One school of thought says Mr Tusk and his team does, in fact, have a duty to impress the Polish people by demonstrating that their lot is being improved. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index ranks Poland 116th in the world for overall efficiency of government, and 131st for the burden of governmental regulation (e.g. tax and labour laws) on doing business.

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source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/economist/QxiO/~3/WAnA7ycTPyI/polish-politics


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