The future for Poland's politics
The outcome of Poland's general election represents far more then a change of regime, it is indicative of a new Poland with a maturing democracy, a country which is at last at ease with its place in Europe and whose future is no longer held in the iron fist of history but in the hands of it's citizens.
Poland's centre-right opposition party Civic Platform is set to form a new government with leader Donald Tusk as Prime Minister after securing over 40 per cent of the vote and thus ensuring a projected 209 seats in the 460 seat lower house of parliament. This will end the tumultuous two-year reign of the Kaczynski twins (Jaroslaw is Prime Minister and Lech is President whose term runs until 2010) and the Law and Justice party. The most likely course of events would see a coalition formed with the Polish Peasants Party, a pro-EU party whose rural popularity should complement the Civic Platforms urban support base.
It is estimated that electorate turnout increased by 15-20 per cent as expatriates and young voters took a stance against the fervent nationalism and social conservatism of the Law and Justice Party and voted instead for the liberal conservative party, whose pro business stance and promise to repair diplomatic relations abroad struck a chord. The Law and Justice government has been widely condemned for alienating a Germany that endorsed Polish entry into the EU and antagonising Russia among others. The populist nationalism of the Kaczynskis was deemed to have wounded Poland internationally and the efforts to paint a new Poland on a tattered canvas of invasion and occupation proved wearisome to the electorate.
Most commentators in the European Union have welcomed developments in Warsaw with EU Commissioner Jose Manuel Barosso making noises to that effect. Tusk has spoken of adopting the EU charter of fundamental rights (opposed by Law and Justice due to the charters liberal stance on homosexuality) and strengthening ties to the Europe. The Germanophobia of the Kaczynski regime will certainly be one of the first issues addressed by Tusk and should be, at least on the surface, easily reparable as Chancellor Merkel is on close terms with the incumbent and Mr Putin should prove as welcoming to a new ally.
Washington however may greet the outcome of this election with a certain amount of hesitation. The new government has pledged to withdraw its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and has planned a review of an agreement made between the US and Kaczynskis to allow part of the controversial US missile defence shield be located on Polish soil.
Domestically Tusk has spoken of an ‘economic miracle' which will lure back the many Polish emigrants dispersed around Europe. But one of the biggest challenges facing Tusk is to remove the corruption that has been so prevalent in Polish public life and to maintain a stable coalition government to an extent that reinvigorates belief in the Polish political system thus ensuring future participation from the new generation. He will have to achieve all this whilst maintaining low taxation policies and ensuring privatisation plans are carried out smoothly.
The victory of the Civic Platform has also gone some way to avenge the personal humiliation of Tusk at the hands of the Kaczynskis. In 2005 he not only lost the parliamentary elections to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, but also the presidential contest to Lech and it will be seen as a fitting irony that Lech Kaczynski will have the duty of appointing Tusk as prime minister. It is widely believed that Lech will use his Presidential veto as a bulwark against measures the Civic platform wish to introduce. However this may prove irrelevant, as it is likely that the new government would attain the support of the 60 per cent of seats needed to override such a veto and surely it would also strengthen support for the new regime.
This election is a pivotal moment in the development of Poland. It means that the post 1989 generation have voted and set the clearest mandate yet for a post communist leader. The Parliament has now been ‘cleansed' of the extreme right and populist parties that have caused collapse in the past. Poland has now every chance to contribute both in a European context and internationally, whilst finally feeling at ease with itself. The words of 19th century Polish novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz never seemed more apt,
“It has been said that Poland is dead, exhausted, enslaved, but here is the proof of her life and triumph.”