Thursday, January 12, 2006

A coalition, or an election

It’s now or never for the Polish minority government (photo: Speaker of Parliament, Marek Jurek – but for how much longer?)

The minority Law and Justice (PiS) government and the opposition have come to a compromise over the budget draft, which must become law by mid-February. But can they lure someone into a coalition?

Speaker of the Lower House, the controversial Marek Jurek (PiS), wanted to delay the vote on the budget by a couple of weeks. The opposition insisted that it should go ahead as originally timetabled, this Saturday. The compromise solution involves a reading to parliament of the budget draft on Saturday, and then a vote on it on January 24.

To get the budget through parliament, PiS needs the support of opposition parties, either the free market orientated Civic Platform (PO), or two smaller populist parties, Self defense (Sb) and League of Polish Families (LPR).

As parliamentarians argued over procedure and shouted ‘scandal’ at each other, PO’s Donald Tusk met with leader of PiS, Jarolsaw Kaczynski, and re-opened talks on forming a government. The surprise offer came from PO Wednesday, days after the government announced that they were installing a prominent ex-member of Donald Tusk’s party as new finance minister, in an attempt to placate markets and possibly tempt PO back to the negotiating table.

The Economist sums up hownthe government's critics see its performance so far:

It depends on the votes of cranky populist parties; it is short of talent; and it is run by the slightly weird Kaczynski brothers (Lech is president of Poland; his identical twin, Jaroslaw, leads the ruling Law and Justice party). Its provincial outlook seemed likely to cripple Poland on the world stage.…

To get the budget through parliament and be able to run an effective government, PiS needs help from somewhere. Leader of Self defense, Andzej Lepper, put it succinctly last week when he said: “Either the government forms a coalition with Self defense [and LPR] or with PO, or we have a new election in April.”

And he’s right. So what scenario would the government prefer?

Coalition with Sb and LPR
This is the worst possible scenario for PiS. Both parties are demanding places in the government, but are not seen as reliable partners, having already voted twice against the two month old administration. The markets, both foreign and domestic, would not like it either.

Coalition with PO
This was what many voters thought they were getting when they voted in the election last September. Though both parties have roots in the old Solidarity movement, the differences in policy between them is large, maybe too large.

An election?
Many in the opposition think that this is what PiS would prefer. The opinion polls are looking good for the Kaczynski twins, and in the latest poll taken by GfK , the government would have enough seats in parliament to rule alone, gaining 243 of the 460 seats.

The meting today between Tusk and Kaczynskii seemed to go well. “Mr. Kaczynski and I treat this as an opening, not a conclusion," said Tusk after the meeting.

But all the cards must now be with the Kaczynski camp – they know that they have growing support in the country, while support for PO is going the other way.

Friday update: I have just been talking to a PiS supporting journalist. He thinks that the most likely outcome is a coalition between Samoobrona, LPR and the Government. But it will not be an alliance that will last very long, and that elections will be called, perhaps later this year, or early next.


michael farris said...

At first I thought PO's call for new coalition talks had that faint odor of flop sweat and party death, now I'm not so sure. It's had the effect of calling their bluff (and agitating the not so stable power hungry leaders of LPR and SO). Now, PiS hasto more or less publicly choose between:
a) what they campaigned for parliament on (coalition with PO some reality-based version of economic policy)
b) empty-headed dangerous populism (SO and LPR and bad consequences all the way around) or
c) looking they want total power all for themselves. I have the idea that voters won't like being dragged back to the polls for a coronation of the duck bros. and they might not do nearly as well as they think they will, it all depends on who takes the PR hit for failing to form a government and causing another round of elections (which Polish people really don't want). My most likely call is that should their be early elections they'll fail to get a majority and things'll be right back where they started...

beatroot said...

If the PO/PiS talks breakdown again then it will be an election, for sure. It must be very tempting for PiS to go for it and try and get a majority.

But as you rightly say, opinion polls are one thing, but what Poles would actually do at the polls is another thing. But it's not going to be boring this year politically...