Parliamentary Election in Poland

October 5, 2011

The Top Players

A guide to the main parties contesting Poland’s Oct. 9 parliamentary elections: who they are and what they stand for.

1. Civic Platform (PO)
The center-right party stands for:
- economic liberalism, lower taxes
- privatization as a driver of economic development
- more European integration
- decentralization, power in the hands of local government
Party leader: Donald Tusk (since June 2003), prime minister heading the governing coalition formed by the PO and the Polish People’s Party (PSL)
First vice-chairman: Grzegorz Schetyna, the Speaker of the Sejm, the lower house of parliament
Vice-chairs: Ewa Kopacz, health minister, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, mayor of Warsaw, Radosław Sikorski, foreign minister
Support in the polls ranging from 31 to 48 percent

2. Law and Justice (PiS)
The party stands for:
- conservatism, patriotism, tradition, Roman Catholic values
- emphasizing the role of the state, especially in the economy
- opposition to the privatization of key sectors of the economy
- a progressive tax system
- toughening of the legal system, “zero tolerance” for crime
- Euro-skepticism, favoring a “Europe of homelands” rather than a European super-state
- national sovereignty and the primacy of Polish interests
Party leader: Jarosław Kaczyński (prime minister from 2006 to 2007)
Party vice-chairs: Adam Lipiński, Beata Szydło, Zbigniew Ziobro (ex-justice minister in the former PiS government)
Approval ratings ranging from 18 to 29 percent

3. Democratic Left Alliance (SLD)
The party stands for:
- a leftist vision of the state
- a social market economy
- prominent role for the state in the economy
- opposition to “exploitative” privatization
- a progressive tax system plus tax breaks for the poorest
- greater European integration
- changes in social policy, including relaxation of the restrictive anti-abortion law, introducing equality for common-law couples, decriminalization of soft drugs
- the separation of church and state, reducing the role of the Roman Catholic religion in public life, abolishing the clergy’s property and tax privileges
Party leader: Grzegorz Napieralski 
Vice-chairs: Katarzyna Piekarska, Longin Pastusiak (ex-Speaker of the Senate)
Support in the polls ranging from 7 to 15 percent

4. Polish People’s Party (PSL)
The party stands for:
- centralization
- an economy based on a solid, modern and self-sufficient agricultural and food sector
- maintaining tax breaks for farmers
- slowing down the pace of privatization
- pro-family policies, changing the tax system to one enabling families to be taxed jointly
- opposition to the legalization of abortion, to euthanasia, to soft drugs and to same-sex unions
- maintaining the role of the Church in public life
- Christian democracy
Party leader: Waldemar Pawlak (prime minister in the 1990s)
Vice-chairs: Jan Bury, Jolanta Fedak, labor minister; Ewa Kierzkowska, deputy Sejm Speaker; Marek Sawicki, agriculture minister
Support in the polls ranging from 4 to 9 percent

5. Poland Comes First (PJN)
The party stands for:
- conservatism
- Christian democracy
This party, formed in late 2010 by a group of defectors from Law and Justice (PiS), does not differ significantly from PiS in its main views. However, it favors dialogue with the governing Civic Platform (PO) instead of confrontation, and also favors cooperation with the governing coalition on some issues. PJN was formed after a clash between some of its members and PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński and his allies.
Party leader: Paweł Kowal
Party executives: Elżbieta Jakubiak, Michał Kamiński (Euro-MP), Paweł Poncyliusz
Support in the polls ranging from 2 to 7 percent

6. The Palikot Support Movement
The group stands for:
- anti-clericalism: taking religion classes out of schools, slapping taxes on the Roman Catholic Church, keeping tabs on the finances of religious organizations
- legal abortion and free birth control
- state-subsidized in-vitro fertilization
- registration of civil partnerships, including same-sex couples
- abolition of the Senate
- legalization of soft drugs
- reduction of military spending to 1 percent of GDP, withdrawing Polish troops from military missions abroad
Party leader: Janusz Palikot, a businessman, formerly a prominent figure in the Civic Platform, the author of several books exposing the backstage workings of Poland’s political scene
Support in the polls ranging from 1 to 4 percent

7. Polish Labor Party
The party stands for:
- a leftist state
- democratic socialism
- progressive taxes
- support for families
- opposition to privatization
- opposition to a liberal economic system
- free education and healthcare
Party leader: Bogusław Ziętek, former radical trade union activist, organizer of street protests

Approval ratings below 1 percent

What kind of coalition?
Depending on the outcome of the election, there are a variety of scenarios. It is not certain that the leader of the party winning the most votes will get to form a new government. President Bronisław Komorowski has said that such a mission may be entrusted to a politician who stands the biggest chance of creating a stable coalition. In turn, Prime Minister Donald Tusk has declared that the Civic Platform will not be seeking to form another ruling coalition if it loses the elections.

The most likely scenarios:

If the PO wins the elections,
it will be only natural that its coalition with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) will continue—unless, of course, the latter party fails to reach the 5 percent voter support threshold required to get into parliament. Somewhat less likely, though possible, would be a coalition between the PO and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD); some politicians from both parties have mentioned such a scenario, especially if the SLD garners some 13-15 percent of the vote. SLD leader Grzegorz Napieralski has repeatedly declared that his party is ready to accept responsibility for jointly governing the country, but at the same time he has consistently lambasted the PO for doing a poor job of governing the country over the last four years.

A return to the idea of a coalition between the PO and the Law and Justice party (PiS)—one that was expected to materialize back in 2005—is very unlikely. This would require some fundamental changes within PiS, including the departure of its leader Jarosław Kaczyński.

Possible scenarios also include an alliance between the PO and the PJN or the Palikot Support Movement, but this could only happen if one of these two groups does surprisingly well in the elections, winning more than 10 percent of the vote, or else if the PO secures enough seats to put together a majority in parliament with the help of only a smaller junior coalition partner with a dozen or so deputies.

If Law and Justice wins,
it is hard to imagine how a viable coalition could be formed. In 2005, PiS first decided to form a minority government, then made a “stabilization pact” with the Samoobrona farmers’ “self-defense” group and the nationalist League of Polish Families (LPR), and finally formed a government coalition with these two parties. However, that coalition did not last long. Today, an alliance between PiS and the PSL seems theoretically possible, while a team-up with the SLD is unlikely, and a coalition with either the PJN or the Palikot Support Movement completely ruled out. One of PiS’s leaders, Joachim Brudziński, declared recently that a deal with “a part of the PO,” meaning some right-wing politicians from that party, is also an option. However, in practice, this would require a breakup of the PO and the resignation of its leader Donald Tusk, in what is a far-fetched scenario at this point.

The election and government-formation procedure:

Voters elect 460 deputies and 100 senators on Oct. 9.

- Within 14 days of the first meeting of the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, the president designates a prime minister—typically a politician chosen earlier either by a party with an independent majority in the Sejm, or by a coalition of parties, and tasks him or her with forming a government.

- The prime minister-designate has 14 days to propose the lineup of the new government to the president. The president appoints the prime minister and other ministers and accepts their oaths.

- Within the next 14 days the prime minister makes a policy speech in the Sejm and asks the house for a vote of confidence in the Cabinet. The Sejm must pass such a vote by an absolute majority in the presence of at least half the statutory number of deputies.

- If the new government fails to be formed in such a way, or if it fails to secure a vote of confidence from parliament, within the next 14 days deputies elect the prime minister—as well as other government ministers proposed by the prime minister—themselves by an absolute majority of votes in the presence of at least half the statutory number of deputies. The president appoints the government chosen in this way and swears it into office.

- If the Sejm fails to produce a government, the matter returns to the president, who, within 14 days, appoints a prime minister and other government members at the prime minister’s request, and receives their oaths.

- Within 14 days of the appointment of the government by the president, the prime minister delivers a policy speech in the Sejm and asks for a vote of confidence. The Sejm must pass a vote of confidence by a simple majority of votes in the presence of at least half the statutory number of deputies.

- If the government fails to secure a vote of confidence, the president announces new elections.

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