Platforma Obywatelska [
In the course of these 16 months the PO came up with a number of ideas, decisions and omissions that have managed to antagonize, to varying degrees, a wide range of target groups: doctors and nurses, customs officials, trade unionists, feminists, teachers, would-be early retirees, parents of six-year olds, dockyard workers, scientists, the armaments industry, market fundamentalists, Catholic traditionalists, the armed forces, even some employers. Just like the previous right of centre AWS-UW government, the PO-PSL [Polish People’s Party] coalition was quick to get into conflict with the very groups that comprised its electoral backbone. None of these conflicts may have been very heated, yet each of them involved a vital section of the active electorate.
Common sense suggests that the popularity of the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the ruling coalition ought to be waning rapidly, and that the opposition parties ought to be growing in strength. Yet surveys show that no such thing is happening.
Apart from minor swings, opinion
polls carried out by various institutions show relatively solid support for the
However badly the opposition is
doing and however badly the coalition is doing, nothing seems to stick to the
By cleverly positioning itself at the centre of the political scene and by building ingenious bridges between the enormous spread of its branches, the PO has left little space and oxygen for any of the other parties, particularly as they don’t seem to know what they are about. The SLD cannot decide what it means to be left-wing today, while the PiS has fallen into total, automatic opposition, throwing tantrums for the most trivial of reasons and hysterically rejecting anything the PO says, even if it means condemning their own ideas from 18 months earlier.
Anyone who was not an apparatchik
under the previous regime, is not a radical trade unionist, extreme
traditionalist or a xenophobe, and who wishes to support a party that has a
chance of getting into the Seym, will have great difficulty in finding their
positions represented outside of the
Anchored in the centre
However, even if the PiS or the SLD
should come up with alternative programmes and sensible visions for
At the moment, there is apparently
no viable alternative to the Civic Platform as
Unlike its predecessors, the
Platform, as ruling party, has anchored itself firmly in the centre while at
the same time retaining a strong position on the moderate right and
successfully spreading its tentacles left of the centre. If we were to look for
analogies, we would probably have to look at the experience of Britain where
the development of political PR and an erosion of the two-party system resulted
in long-term periods of domination by the Conservative Party (1979-1997)
followed by the Labour party (1997 till now). The situation was similar in
As a result, the domination by the
This situation puts Donald Tusk -
party leader, Prime Minister and candidate in the forthcoming presidential
elections - in a very comfortable position, at least in the short term. Above
all, the Prime Minister can feel certain that no member of his crew will jump
overboard. For there is nothing on the far side of the deck. The
This unchallenged domination enables Tusk to control the situation in the rival parties as well. He has just lured away from the SLD two key candidates in the forthcoming presidential elections. He has bought Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz by supporting his candidacy for the post of Secretary of the Council of Europe. He acquired Danuta Hübner in exchange for a place on the European Parliament list. Tusk does not have to worry that his numerous voters and friends will not like it. What can they do apart from frowning quietly? And Hübner and Cimoszewicz are booty worth a sin. There are no other personalities around, so the Prime Minister can be sure that the Left will put up at least two candidates. And that will mean that the only real challenger will be Lech Kaczyński - who no longer stands a chance of winning, and thus Donald Tusk may win in the first round.
In the same way, the
Weakness in diversity?
With the PiS lurking around the corner Tusk’s Platform feels like a column of settlers surrounded by bloodthirsty Indians. Everyone knows that if they let themselves be split up they can say goodbye to their scalps. However, this does not mean that the Poles do not have any de facto political options. However, the genuine alternatives, the arguments that can have real influence on life, the credible, substantive political differences are to be found within the ruling Platform rather than between it and its rivals. And this, too, has created a new situation, as yet unfamiliar on the Polish political scene.
An essential aspect of this new situation is a growing awareness among all interest groups (from the feminists and pro-life activists, trade unions, employers, professional and ideological lobbies to shady wheeler-dealers) that the only way to get anything out of this government, to influence legislation, policies, state economic policies, is to find someone within the ruling party who will represent their interests. The wide spread of the Platform would seem to be ideally suited to this. However, with increasing tensions caused by disparate interests, the broad representation which currently enables the party to maintain widespread support will become the source of growing pressure, scandals and internal rifts that could drive it to the point of disintegration.
In the short run, it might be possible to contain, for example, the controversy over bio-ethical issues within the Platform so that practically every position is represented within the ruling party. Similarly, the debate on fighting the crisis may one day follow the monetary logic of Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski, and the next day the more interventionist sympathies of Secretary of State Michał Boni. It is possible to announce budget cuts one day, and tax increases the next. It is possible to feed the left in the morning and the right in the evening, or the other way around. However, sooner or later some decisions will have to be taken.
Tensions will grow even if they are not reflected in opinion polls for some time to come. Increasingly, they will paralyse decision-making processes (for example, those relating to the current economic crisis), impose dysfunctional, rotten compromises (as in the case of the missile shield) and push the government into seeking absurd quid pro quo solutions (nominating Fotyga to the UN Ambassadorship to please some, and Cimoszewicz to the Council of Europe to appease others).
Spread-eagled across much of the
The fate of the Prime Minister
Pleasant as it may be for the government to be treated with generosity or calculated tolerance by the greater part of the political milieu, it could also be dangerous. A government can be lulled into a sense of false security, which can even deprive it of its instinct of self-preservation The recent defeat of the PO’s candidate in the Olsztyn mayoral elections demonstrates that this process is already under way. Convinced that victory was in its pocket, the overconfident Platform put up a candidate who had little local support, thus engineering its own defeat.
Another danger for the government lurks in the inevitable attracting of parasites, which are drawn to all governments but especially to long-enduring ones. The Platform has not been and will not be an exception. If Donald Tusk is not careful in this matter, he will end up just like his predecessor Leszek Miller.
A sense of security also induces the kind of tactical thinking that is dangerous in the long run. Since we face no immediate threats, sometimes we can ease up for the sake of some peace and quiet. We don’t have to try particularly hard. We think we can get away with the odd mistake. After all, nobody will switch allegiance to the PiS just because, for example, the Prime Minister played football instead of voting in the Seym, or went skiing instead of developing plans to combat the financial crisis, or even because he brutally fired a good justice minister in an emotional fit and brought in someone as objectionable as Andrzej Czuma.
However, impunity is an illusion.
Even if the
During his year in office Donald
Tusk not only stopped being the most popular member of his government (being
overtaken by Radosław Sikorski in January) but was also the only PO leader
whose net popularity (i.e. the difference between those who trust him and those
who don’t) decreased over the past year – by a third. In the same period other
If a single party stays in power
for too long the country may benefit more than the party itself, since one
parliamentary term is usually not enough to carry out coherent and consistent
reforms. Parties that hand over power after four years usually leave office having
completed at most half of their projects. And their successors usually do not
complete it either. We experienced this most painfully when Buzek’s and
Balcerowicz’s government was forced out before it had a chance to complete four
major reforms. The imperative of their completion still haunts us in the form
of the disasters hanging over
The fate of the party
In this respect a long-term
dominant position puts the Platform under the obligation of treading
particularly firmly. If the Platform hands over power in seven or eleven years
it won’t be able to blame anything on lack of time, useless coalition partners,
a malicious president or obstruction by opposition parties. Everything that
will happen in
The experience of the British
Conservatives and German Social Democrats demonstrates that the longer the
system of one dominant party survives the more painful is its eventual decline.
However, as painful declines go, it was the centrist Christian Democratic Party
In democracy a dominant single
party can rule for a long time - but not forever. That much is obvious.
However, it is less obvious what it will leave behind. The Italian case
demonstrates that it is not so much the rule by a dominant party that poses the
greatest threat but rather the subsequent rise to power of its marginalized,
fragmented successors who grow increasingly radicalized and who have lost all
sense of responsibility. In this respect the
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