Central Europe Review Call forpolicy proposals...
Vol 3, No 17
14 May 2001
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News from Poland News from Poland
All the important news
since 5 May 2001

Wojtek Kość


New electoral law

Vague until the very last minute, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski signed the controversial new electoral law this week, to take effect in the coming parliamentary elections in September, this year. The President kept journalists and politicians guessing even during his speech. He began with enumerating the bill's weak points, only to state minutes later that the advantages of the new law outweigh its drawbacks.

View today's updated headlines from Poland
The controversy around the bill is twofold: first, it was drawn up but a few months before the elections, by Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS)—which is now disintegrating, and will probably cease to exist before the elections date—and the Freedom Union (UW). Weak performances are expected of both these parties in September. The move led to many negative comments about doctoring the election results behind the voters' backs; in other words, tailoring the rules to adjust for the current low support for the AWS and UW.

A second flashpoint about the new law is that, according to Polityka weekly commentator Mariusz Janicki, it may hinder the creation of a stable government. The Social Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), with about 45 per cent of popular support in the polls, will reap nearly 40 mandates less than what they would have had under the previous electoral law (which used d'Hondt system, whereas the new one uses Saint Lague).


Smaller parties to benefit

Smaller parties, like the AWS (if it makes it to the elections), the UW, the Civic Platform and the Polish Peasants Party (that is, all parties that are capable of solid performances) will gain seats. Janicki wrote on May 12, "Considering that the strongest competitors usually lose support during the campaign (as it was during last presidential elections), it may happen that coalition of SLD and Labor Union will not have a majority to form a government. Who will then join the SLD: Peasants, UW, Civic Platform, or individual MPs singled out from those parties and offered proper positions? In any case, talks may drag on for weeks."

The new electoral law does away with the so-called "country list" (lista krajowa), which was often unpopular among parties but was an important backdoor to parliament for politicians. During the last elections, for example, the incumbent Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek gained a parliamentary seat only thanks to this institution. The new law also augments the financing of political parties with money from the state budget.

The Polish Peasants' Party intends to challenge the ruling that disallows parties to let buildings for commercial purposes; the party wants to bring its complaints to the Constitutional Tribunal. Janicki wrote, "The new electoral law has a slim chance of a long life, though constant rules of the electoral game are one of the most important elements of the democratic order. So far, everyone wants to play the games they are most likely to win."


Electoral calenadar

The second of August will be the deadline for the State Electoral Commission (PKW) to announce all the necessary information about constituencies, while parties must inform the PKW whether they are going to run in the elections on 4 August. Parties must submit lists of candidates to the commissions by 14 August. On 8 September, the election campaign begins on public radio and TV. The elections will take place on 23 September. The twenty-third of October is the deadline for parties' electoral committees to remove all their propaganda materials from public venues and financial reports have to be submitted to the PKW by 23 December.


Treasury buys land in Jedwabne

After long negotiations, the Polish Treasury have finally bought the area next to the old Jewish cemetery in Jedwabne, the town where in 1941 local Poles—possibly inspired by Germans—killed more than a thousand Jews. (See this recent article in CER). The Treasury bought the area in order to have free hands when it comes to commemoration of the victims in July this year, the 60th anniversary of the massacre.

Krystyna Lukaszuk, the governor of the Podlasie province, where Jedwabne is located, said authorities would do their utmost to construct a memorial to the killed Jews before the July anniversary, during which the highest Polish state officials will pay homage to the victims of the pogrom.

The purchase was not without controversy, as the Treasury could have been outbid by the nationalist and anti-Semitic extremist Leszek Bubel, who offered PLZ 100,000 (USD 25,000) for the disputed land.

Wojtek Kość, 20 April 2001

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