Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Who will blink first?

The minority government and the opposition are playing a game of poker – and it’s the government who have the ace up their sleeve. No wonder President Kaczynski is looking happy.

This evening President Kaczynski finally met with the two leaders from the opposition Civic Platform. Donald Tusk and Jan Rokita had publicly hoped that the president would mediate in the political crisis in parliament, which could result in the budget bill not becoming law. This would mean parliament’s dissolution, and new elections would have to be called.

Privately Civic Platform are trying to make sure that Kaczynski gets dragged into the mess, and shatter any illusion that he is acting independently.

The meeting was to have taken place 24 hours before, but Kaczynski cancelled at the last minute, pointing to statements made by PO which ‘were not within the dignity of the presidential office’. Presumably these included statements by PO that the government was acting in parliament in way that was ‘a danger to democracy’.

In the last few\days blood has been spilled on the parliament floor. The budget bill has brought out the weaknesses of both the government and the opposition. The opposition, split and impotent, has accused Law and Justice of delaying votes in the Lower House to make sure the bill fails and new elections can be held quickly.

Polish roulette

PiS have gained popularity in the polls since last September’s election and could win a majority of seats, and so rule alone. All possible coalitions seem unworkable or unreliable and they smell a possible outright victory.

Civic Platform also claim that Kaczynski stood Tusk and Rokita up yesterday to get more time with his lawyers. The budget must be passed within four months of it first being introduced to parliament. The problem is, when was it first put to parliament? Was it in September, when the old, SLD administration introduced it, or was it in October when the new PiS government re-introduced it?

But time is running out. Whichever date is finally decided upon, the bill still has to be passed in the Lower House, then sent to the Senate, get voted through, or amended, there, sent back to the Lower House again, and then finally given to the president to sign.

Opinion polls have been putting PiS ahead by over ten points – enough for a majority in parliament. One poll today, however, had the gap narrowed to only two points (although this might well be a ‘rogue’ poll, which are common in Poland).

The election threat is PiS’s ace up its sleeve. By threatening to cut and run to the electorate, at a time when opposition parties’ ratings are falling, could force some sort of coalition on the government’s terms.

Most people seem to be expecting an election in April. But if PiS can, (or want) to get the budget through in time, form a temporary coalition with smaller opposition parties, and struggle on till the autumn, then they can fix a general election to coincide with the already scheduled local elections.

But that would give them more time to make mistakes and have the polls turn against them. If PiS are going to cut and run, then they will cut and run soon.

Get ready – unless a miracle coalition is formed - for an election in April.

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