Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The third twin?

A minority government was sworn in on Monday in Warsaw that must rely on some pretty strange characters to rule. (pictured: Andzej Lepper)

To govern, the Law and Justice party (PiS) – led by the two Kaczynski twins - must rely on support from populists, xenophobes and far-right catholic nationalists. As Polityka magazine notes this week, with Lech Kaczynski now in the presidential palace, and his identical twin brother Jarolsaw controlling things behind the scenes in parliament, a third personality will be increasingly influential over the fortunes of this government, the leftwing populist and nationalist, Andzej Lepper.

Is Lepper, then, the ‘third twin’ in government?

With the second largest party in parliament, Civic Platform (PO), refusing to join a coalition with PiS over differences in economic policy and the choice of personnel in cabinet, this leaves the way open for smaller parties to get in on the act and wield power way beyond their numerical number within parliament. The largest of these groups, Selfdefence, led by Lepper, will be particularly important to the future of PiS in government.

Lepper – in return for his support of PiS in the election of arch-Eurosceptic, Marek Jurek, as Speaker of Parliament last week - has now been given the prestigious job as one of his deputies.

This has amused many Poles, who remember when Lepper was given the same job by the SLD ex-communists in the last parliament. But when the head of Selfdefence lived up to form by causing a lot of trouble in the chamber, he was removed from his post in November, 2001.

Sefdefence will be demanding more subsidies and protection for farmers, and an increase in welfare spending for pensioners, the sick, and the 17.5% unemployed. Lepper is also pushing for less independence from parliament for the interest rate setting Monetary Policy Council.

These policies are an anathema to the party that has refused to enter into the coalition, the Civic Platform, which wants cuts in public spending, a flat income tax, and speedier privatisation of Poland’s key industries. Donald Tusk – PO’s defeated candidate in last month’s presidential election – said PiS has a choice: “You can't have cooperation with Civic Platform and Andrzej Lepper at the same time," he said, adding, “It’s us or them.”

Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz has claimed that he has ‘begged’ PO to join the coalition, and the 17 members of the new cabinet unveiled Monday include some sops to PO, including Zbigniew Religa as health minister (who said during the presidential campaign that the prospect of a PiS led government ‘frightened him”) and Teresa Lubinska as finance minister, who is a former member of a party closest in outlook to PO, the now defunct Unia Wolnosci.

PiS must also go looking for support from the far-right League of Polish Families. Included in their election programme was a call to tighten Poland’s already extremely strict abortion law. The League proposes a ban on all terminations, even when the pregnancy is the result of rape.

So, if PiS and PO cannot form a coalition together we are left with a typically confusing, Polish political situation.

Foreign newspapers are claiming that the new government represents a shift to the right in Polish politics. But they are wrong.

Normally, the economic programme of PiS – which shares some of the state protectionist tendencies of Selfdefence – would, in the old days, be described as being [whisper it] socialist. Add to the mix PiS, Selfdefence and the League of Polish Families’ conservative social policies, and what we have is a Polish minority government which must rely on support from conservative-socialists.

This is not a natural blending of flavours, and is about as appetizing as curried ice cream.


michael farris said...

"about as appetizing as curried ice cream."

hmmmm, curry-ee

Interestingly, I overheard a co-worker refer to the Duck as "taki stary komuch" (an old commie). That might surprise some people, but it made a lot of sense to me. Not only is his big-state-money policy a throwback and his personal and administrative style seems oddly similar to ex-communists (before they were ex- that is). I wonder how long before he starts blaming failed policy not on the parameters of the policy itself but on internal enemies.

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