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Vol 3, No 13
2 April 2001
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on the Right

Once hailed as a new hope
for Poland, the AWS is now
losing members and votes

Wojtek Kość

What a difference four years make. In 1997, a revamped Solidarity and a score of right-wing parties and groups formed the Electoral Action Solidarity (Polish acronym AWS). Their campaign surpassed those of the rival social democratic Left Alliance and Freedom Union; it was dynamic and largely free of the customary references to Nation and Polish Fatherland so unpalatable to many (primarily young) voters.

Instead of patriotic slogans, AWS proposed a new way of governing Poland. The flagships of the new coalition government with the Freedom Union were four big reforms: of health care, administration, the pension system and education. From them, the new government of the time assured us, a new and modern Poland was to rise like Phoenix from the ashes of the policies implemented by the previous coalition of social democrats and the Peasants' Party.

In 2001, the AWS has been undergoing another overhaul—but this time there is less hype about it. The first blow was dealt by the surprise runner-up in presidential elections, Andrzej Olechowski. Together with Sejm Speaker Maciej Plazynski and Senate Speaker Donald Tusk, Olechowski formed the Civic Platform last January.

Its political offer, aimed at centrist AWS voters, has proved successful so far—not only at the expense of AWS, but also of the Freedom Union: this favorite of Western publicists is now on the verge of political existence, hanging in at five per cent of the popular vote, the minimum needed in order to be represented in the Sejm.

The present is troubled...

March saw the Conservative People's Party (SKL)—one of the main parties in the conglomerate that constitutes the AWS—leaving the alliance in order to cooperate with Olechowski. "Betrayal," was the AWS reaction. "It's a change of means, not of objectives," replied Jan Maria Rokita of the SKL.

Strangely enough, even though the SKL left the AWS, its two ministers stayed in Jerzy Buzek's government. Then, last week, those politicians of SKL that decided to stick to the AWS and a number of dissidents from the Christian National Union (another part of the AWS—isn't it confusing?) formed a new entity, the Right-Wing Alliance.

The AWS itself is trying to appear intact. Also last week, it held its first program conference under the slogan "AWS in action again." "The most shocking word during the entire conference was the word 'first'," wrote Polityka weekly, amazed that the AWS organized such a meeting only at the end of its term.

With the departure of the rather centrist SKL and the appearance of Przymierze, however, the AWS is steering towards becoming a much less attractive option in the guise of a more nationalist and more clerical party, thus narrowing its electorate. Recent polls show that it can count on about nine to 12 per cent of the vote, whereas the Civic Platform enjoys as much as 17 per cent. Time will tell whether this support for the Civic Platform is the result of a "novelty effect" or not, but for the time being the AWS faces marginalization.

...and the future uncertain

As if Jerzy Buzek did not have enough to worry about, there is more outward movement in the AWS. Justice Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the most popular government figure, is said to have his own high political ambitions. Kaczynski's brother, Lech, may want to take advantage of Jaroslaw's successes and triumphally return to the political scene, speculated Polityka recently. Lech Kaczynski already established a group called Law and Justice which wants to join forces with the AWS and other, minor right-wing parties.

Cooperation will require some expiation from the AWS, however: "We will cooperate—if the people who are suspected of acting on the verge of business and politics leave the AWS," said Lech Kaczynski.

Another element in the game is former deputy Prime Minister Janusz Tomaszewski. In January this year, the Lustration Court acquitted Tomaszewski of cooperation with the Communist secret police. When he was charged a year and a half ago, his colleagues literally turned their backs on him, forcing him to resign.

At that time Tomaszewski was one of the leading figures in the AWS and seemed to be constantly growing in strength, which supposedly ran against the grain of the then AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski. After a prolonged trial, Tomaszewski returned and does not hide the fact that he would like to be in the top ranks again. His name is sometimes linked with the Kaczynskis—the question remains whether they will form a fraction inside the AWS or decide to steer clear of it, counting on the "novelty effect."

Liberalism does not convince

The Freedom Union was hit hardest by the emergence of the Civic Platform, despite optimistic assurances from its leaders (at least those who stayed) that only a faction of its members actually left for the Platform. The numbers may be moderate, but some of those "escapees"—as Bronislaw Geremek called them—have weighty names: Mayor of Warsaw Pawel Piskorski or former Prime Minister Jan K Bielecki.

March polls saw support for the Freedom Union plunge below five per cent, which, if elections were to be held then, would have meant one less party in the Sejm. Not a good result for a party that boasts to be in the avant-garde of the transition movement in Poland. Last week's agreement with the Dialogue Forum, an organization under the auspices of the Business Center Club that promotes more liberal labor laws and a general liberalization of the economy, may have been conducted with gusto, but its effect seems dubious. With nearly 16 per cent unemployment, Poles do not see liberalism as a particularly good cure for crisis and poverty.

Same votes, different results

A direct outcome of these sudden movements on the right and center of the political scene was a change in the electoral law. The previous law, based on the d'Hondt system, would predominantly serve social democrats, who now enjoy over 40 per cent of the popular vote. The new bill introduces the St Lague system of converting votes into parliamentary seats, which favors smaller parties.

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The shaping of such an important act, one of the main components of the framework of any democratic country, smacks of manipulation and dishonesty: if voters' support does not live up to expectations, it will be doctored. Some democratic rules should not be altered at will, as they should serve as a solid foundation of the political system, something that becomes independent in the course of time, and not as just another instrumental element in the pre-electoral game.

What a difference four years make. In 1997, a revamped Solidarity and a score of right-wing parties formed the AWS. In 2001, the AWS has begun to decompose as a result of the emergence of the Civic Platform. And a former coalition partner of the AWS, the Freedom Union, is struggling to get into the parliament at all. The social democrats are safe in the driving seat for the September elections—not that this is particularly bad, but the growing mediocrity of their rivals contributes to the general deterioration of the political scene.

Wojtek Kość, 2 April 2001

Moving on:


Wojtek Kość
The Polish Right

The Balkans Heat Up
Heather Field
Going for Broke

Magarditsch Hatschikjan
Crisis to Crisis

Omer Fisher
The Road to Independence

Sam Vaknin
Balkan War III

Roma Culture
in Hungary

Dan Damon
Liszt and the Roma

Rhoda Dullea
The Roma Question

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Romani Theater

Behind Bars!
Susan Abbott
Slobo's Support

Brian J Požun
Slovenia's Opportunity

Sam Vaknin
A Prelude to Death?

Catherine Lovatt
"We will never
give you up!"

Stanisław Lem

Peter Swirski
Look to the Future

Stanisław Lem
An excerpt from Okamgnienie

Štěpán Kotrba
Sow and Reap

Brian J Požun
Shedding the Balkan Skin

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Oliver Craske
Big in Albania

Czech Republic

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