Poland’s parliamentary election on October 9 is likely to be historically unexciting. The main governing party, Civic Platform (PO), currently has 44% in the polls, against 32% for its main rival Law and Justice (PiS). This lead has narrowed from a 22-point advantage in June.
In 2007, younger voters’ antipathy to the inward- and backward-looking PiS played a major role in PO’s triumph. They may not be so motivated to turn out for a bland, but seemingly invincible, government. Moreover, research shows that many PiS voters are reluctant to express their party political preference. Nonetheless, it looks like post-communist Poland will re-elect a government, or the main governing party, for the first time. It also seems that the four parties elected to the current parliament will be the only ones represented in the next parliament. PO’s Peasant Party coalition partners are, as usual, hovering around the five per cent threshold, but their concentrated, rural constituency is better for elections than it is for opinion polls. The Democratic Left Alliance has eleven percent of popular support and is also a possible coalition partner for PO.
PO has become a very pragmatic party that straddles the centre of Polish politics. Perhaps worryingly, its success looks like that of the old Christian Democrats in Italy, or Fianna Fáil in Ireland. Of course, much of this success is its competitor’s failure. PiS, and in particular its leader Kaczyński, cannot break into the centre from the right: they are too associated with conspiracy and rancour. Indeed, the Smolensk tragedy, in which the then president and twin brother of the PiS leader died, has not been to the party’s advantage. Every time more details about the crash, or controversy about commemorating its victims, enter the news, Poles are reminded of the emotional politics of the right. PO has benefitted from a good economic performance, which began under the PiS-led government from 2005 to 2007: Poland was the only country in the EU to register economic growth in 2009. Previous large governing parties have been destroyed by spectacular corruption scandals. PO managed to contain a scandal linking them to bribes from the gambling industry.
President Bronisław Komorowski, who left PO on assuming the presidency, has stayed well away from the campaign. Premier Donald Tusk’s decision not to contest last year’s presidential election increased his power and the parliamentary focus of Polish politics. The nearest thing to a semi-presidential controversy in the current campaign came when PiS leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, said he would work with the president if elected. PO seized on this opportunity to remind the electorate of the emotional, bitter, chaotic side of Kaczyński. However, in general, Kaczyński has learnt the lessons of recent elections, and projected a reasonable, moderate image on the hustings.