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Vol 3, No 4
29 January 2001
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Poland gets a new platform A Surprising Alliance
The birth of a liberal-conservative platform in Poland
Wojtek Kość

At the moment, Andrzej Olechowski, Maciej Płażyński and Donald Tusk are the talk of the town in Poland. Judging by the mediocrity of the Polish political class and politics in general, they should not deserve it. After all, what have they done? So far nothing really important, except that the latter two broke away from their parties in order to join Olechowski, the runner-up in the October 2000 presidential elections.

Płażyński, Sejm speaker and would-be deputy leader of the revived Electoral Action Solidarity (AWS), surprised his party colleagues on 10 January, when he decided not to stay with the new-look AWS. Tusk, a representative of the liberal faction of the Freedom Union (UW), chose to leave because his views (and colleagues) were axed from the UW's platform during the last party convention. They both longed for Andrzej Olechowski's three million-strong electorate, this nearly miraculous concentration of moderate voters around someone who popped up from political nowhere, then did not know what to do with his support and, finally, became the top attraction for conservatives trapped in the AWS and UW.

Creating a liberal-conservative platform

The three politicians' move toward creating a new force in politics in Poland may be considered just another ridiculous split of the right wing, one that serves the never satisfied ambitions of its leaders, as often happened in recent years. But right now, the momentum is good.

A poll conducted by a Sopot-based polling company, PBS, revealed that as many as 23 percent of respondents were willing to support the new formation, which was first known under the working title "Electoral Platform" and has now become the Civic Platform. It aims to become a truly liberal-conservative political entity, something that AWS and UW are not, according to the Civic Platform's leaders. During a press conference in Warsaw on 19 January, Olechowski was very pleased with the new initiative: "I'm impressed by the interest evoked by our Civic Platform. We want to release the energy of all Poles and of our democracy, which is tied up by corruption, incompetence and the unclear role of the trade unions." he said.

More specifically, the Civic Platform's program, as explained in its first document, encompasses the elimination of laws that hinder the development of business, the introduction of a flat tax and tax exemption for those earning the lowest wages, a change in labor laws to make hiring employees easier, a cut in the size of local governments and the introduction of the popular vote for the election of executive posts, punishment of bribe-takers, the limitation of parliamentary immunity, and the modernization and reform of the Polish agricultural sector.

The end of the AWS?

But isn't this program similar to that of the Conservative People's Party (a part of AWS)? And isn't it also similar to that of the UW? It is indeed, and this program similarity—if not duplication—is what constitutes the greatest impact the Civic Platform may have (and already is having) on Polish politics.

A conglomerate of three parties and a trade union (AWS) may not remain intact when the Conservative People's Party finally admits that it has a lot more common with Olechowski and company than with Krzaklewski and his trade unionist ideals. Shunning loyalty, the Conservatives may seek a more wholesome position before the parliamentary election this fall. This will impair AWS's strength and may result in its total disintegration, especially when one remembers how difficult it was to assemble the party in 1997.

The future of the party system

One of AWS's chief figures, Płażyński, has already made himself clear on the issue. The Freedom Union has felt the early popularity of the new initiative, too. Apart from Tusk, a few hundred of its members decided to join the Civic Platform—among them the mayor of Warsaw, Paweł Piskorski, until now a bright star in the party. But those moves may prove harmless to UW; after all; this is not the first time people have left. More dangerous for the party is the fact that for the first time it will have to compete against a formation with such a similar, and yet more concrete, program.

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Dangerous unless, of course, the UW joins the Civic Platform. UW's leader, former minister of foreign affairs, Bronisław Geremek, has not excluded such a possibility. Joining Olechowski, however, will certainly not put UW in a favorable position, as it will not be able to dictate conditions then. UW is still reaping the ill effects of its unfortunate decision not to put anyone in the presidential race last year and of its lackluster talks with the surprise runner-up, Olechowski.

So here they are now, the Three Tenors of Polish politics, as they have already been dubbed, appealing to the people: we are moderate, we are conservative, we will release your energy. OK, we left our party colleagues in the lurch, but at least we look pragmatic and effecient at the moment. We might challenge the Democratic Left Alliance, or even cause the AWS to disintegrate and the UW to join us.

Is this an introduction to a two-party system in Poland?

Wojtek Kość, 25 January 2001

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