Polish voters show their disdain for politics as usual

Patrick Young
Patrick L Young is CEO of niche crowdfunding platform HanzaTrade and an advisor to fund managers throughout the world. Born in Ireland, he is an active investor in the “New Europe” amongst other emerging markets and is an active Co Founder of grassroots startup group "Mission ToRun." Home Page: http://patricklyoung.net Twitter: @FrontierFinance
Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski.(AFP Photo / Janek Skarzynski )
Poland, a wondrous economic success story largely untouched by recession for over 20 years, remains the poster child of the New Europe. However, the electorate is growing restive after eight years of rule by the coalition Civic Platform party.

The claim by the ruling Civic Platform party (Platforma Obywatelska) that the conservative Law and Justice opposition is unfit for office appears to be losing its hold over the Polish electorate. Although Civic Platform has delivered an unprecedented period of post-Communist stability, a period of reactionary government with vital growth reforms was avoided. In other words, Poland has been succumbing to the typical EU government disease.

Today, the Polish economy continues to grow largely due to former Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz's visionary foresight of of the early 1990s, while Parliament in recent years has overseen a tedious rise in the blob, delivering higher taxes, more regulation and larger government. Now, President Bronisław Komorowski faces a tough run-off in next weekend’s second round of voting after running a stunningly mediocre campaign.

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While Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk has cashed in his unquestioning Europhilia to become President of the European Council, the government he left behind looks weak and vacillating, as it has consistently moved from the center economically to being an interventionist left-wing fudge.

Regardless of the Western media’s views, neither of the leading Polish parties demonstrates anything but soft socialist economics. However, with Warsaw, which is perhaps the most Europhile city in the EU, the political bubble continues to behave as if only Brussels matters, while across the country, despite vast EU largesse for some business and social programs, the reality is that Poles have tired of Civic Platform and are relieved they dodged the euro bullet. This isn’t UK style euroskepticism, but it is a realistic appraisal that says while some of Europe works, a lot of it doesn’t.

Ultimately, however, Poland’s government is likely to be the architects of their own popular demise through their unfortunate, indolent, kleptocracy, having essentially stolen half the private pension pot by exploiting an EU loophole. President Komorowski vacillated and failed to intervene over this appalling act, as did Brussels, which was much more critical when Hungary had done the same thing previously.

Andrzej Duda.(Reuters / Kacper Pempel)

While Parliamentary elections due in the autumn look to be on a knife edge, the Presidential elections currently in process have long been written off as a near formality. The incumbent, Bronislaw Komorowski, an affable and average leader, appeared to be heading for a walkover. Alas, the Warsaw bubble was listening to both its own hype and the pathetically inaccurate data of those dismal scientists, the pollsters.

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The shock arrived May 10th, in round one of the Presidential elections, when President Komorowski, having almost halved his support from pre-campaign polls, was humiliatingly beaten into second place by the opposition Law and Justice challenger, Andrzej Duda: 34.76 percent to 33.77. (The Warsaw bubble’s blather leading up to Election Day had been even pondering whether a second round would even be required…).

With nothing more than cigarette paper separating the two candidates, it would appear to be all to play. But unfortunately for Komorowski the defeated first round candidates now appear reluctant to endorse him, particularly the third placed, shock finisher: Almost out of nowhere, 50-year-old rock star Pawel Kukiz stormed to 20 percent of the vote (twice his opinion poll high, incidentally), on a platform seeking to reform Parliament towards UK-style single member constituencies, away from the current proportional list system (another policy Civic Platform failed to execute, incidentally).

Many alienated Kukiz voters may simply fail to vote in the second round but demonstrating a genuinely ‘tin ear’ to this hefty block of voters, the Komorowski campaign haughtily disdained taking part in a debate where Mr. Kukiz would chair the two second round candidates. In a more formal May 17th TV debate the candidates appeared to be pretty evenly matched.

With the Presidency a fairly ceremonial oversight role, there is a theory that many Komorowski voters opted to deliver a protest vote in the first round by supporting Kukiz, but even that rings slightly hollow insofar as Civic Platform has endlessly used scare tactics about Law and Justice. Then again, perhaps the impact of crying wolf about the opposition has finally run out. Equally, it may be that voters see delivering an alternative Presidential candidate to the Civic Platform will encourage the government to deliver a coherent Parliamentary campaign.

Or it may just be that the voters are growing tired of the duopoly of the past decade and actually prefer a reboot. In the short-term, a Duda victory will give Law and Justice considerable electoral momentum against a tired, discredited government. New parties, including one led by the original reformist Finance Minister Balcerowicz, may yet make a significant impact (10 percent in polls currently), while Kukiz hopes to build on his 3 million votes in the first round elections.

Both main parties are essentially wary of Russia while split on their views of the EU. Economically, both support big government which may bring issues ahead. Moreover, with Civic Platform having angered foreign investors through their pension fund confiscation fiasco, even a relatively prickly Law and Justice administration might be preferable to foreign capital…

Poland is at an interesting crossroads. The second round vote takes place Sunday 24th May.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.