01 September, 2007

Polish elections

There are elections taking place in Poland later this year. The last elections were held only two years ago. These early elections have been triggered by the collapse of the governing coalition, with Self-Defence and The League of Polish Families dropping out of the coalition dominated by the Law & Justice party (Law & Justice is often abbreviated in English to its Polish initials, PiS).

The last round of elections saw parliamentary and presidential elections take place in a short space of time. They produced the unusual result whereby two twin brothers came to dominate Poland's politics, with Lech Kaczynski becoming the country's president and Jaroslaw Kaczynski the leader of the largest government party (and subsequently the prime minister). The Kaczynskis then proceeded to govern in a manner that appealed strongly to their natural supporters, while simultanaeously convincing many other observers of the country's politics that they are a pair of boorish fuckwits.

It is funny noticing how international sentiment turned against the twins. Around the time of their elevation, a lot of international commentators were saying things like "they may be a pair of ultra-catholic weirdos, but they do seem to be serious about stamping out the corruption and cronyism that have bedevilled Poland since the transition". Since then, these commentators have been increasingly struck by the Kaczynskis' love of picking fights with international actors (Germany, the EU, Russia) for no obvious gain except to make populist appeals to Polish public opinion. A certain amount of schadenfreude has greeted the collapse of the governing coalition and the calling of early electons, with people expecting that this will mean an end to the terrible twins. Expectations of the twins' political demise are perhaps premature. There is an interesting article by Derek Scally in today's Irish Times, suggesting that the Kaczynskis remain popular with a large section of the Polish population. PiS could still poll strongly in the election, particularly if the vote turns into a highly polarised contest between PiS and a coalition led by the country's former communists. Even if PiS is hammered in the elections and a new "left" government takes office, we will not have seen the last of the Kaczynskis. Jaroslaw will no longer be prime minister, but Lech will remain as president. Polish presidents have considerable powers, and it would be interesting to see how President Kaczynski manages to deal with a hostile government.

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