Some observations about the recent parliamentary elections in Poland:
1. Poles went to the polls on Sunday. At stake was the party composition of the parliament. Since the 1993 elections, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) was the most popular party. They are composed primarily of former communist party leaders, and are considered the “left.” In common parlance, they are the post-communist party, seeking conservative market reforms and a strong welfare state. Americans can’t compare the terms “left” and “welfare state” as they exist in America, because even the right wing parties are strong on reducing inequality through a strong welfare state. It’s a matter of degrees.
2. The Democratic Left Alliance won every election since 1993 except in 1997, when a coalition of the fractured Solidarity (solidarinosc) parties won a slim majority. In these kind of elections, it’s all about the coalitions. Nobody gets above 30 some odd percent of the vote, so coalitions are made with like minded parties. In 1991, for example, it was a veritable alphabet soup of parties, where 111 parties ran for parliament. Parties like Friends of Beer (actually, more of a green party) and Party X ran. After that election, the sejm (parliament) instituted a cap where a party had to win a minimum of 5% of the vote to get a seat. Now, the number of parties is smaller, but coalitions are still very important.
3. After winning in 2001, the Democratic Left Alliance got embroiled in a “cash-for-legislation” scandal. High unemployment, around 17%, hasn’t helped. Hence, they were expected to be big losers in the 2005 election.
4. This is exactly what happened. They won a paltry 12%, while center-right parties of Law and Justice and Civic Platform won 27% and 24%, respectively. Voter turnout was the lowest yet, with about 40%.
5. To understand post-communist democracy in Poland, however, you have to know that Poland is a very religious country. Close to 90% are Catholics. As such, there are many political parties with a strong religious platform, such as Catholic-National Movement and League of Polish Families, in recent years.
6. The winners of 2005 have agreed before the election to form a coalition. This means they have about 50% of the seats. The winners have strong religious ties, but are not explicitly Church run. They ran on “strong morals” that have a strong Catholic component.
“Like most of the former communist states, Poland provided abortion virtually on demand during the Soviet era, when women in Eastern Europe lived under a system of formal equality imposed by the state. After communism collapsed, many countries experienced a backlash against anything representative of the old order. Liberal abortion laws were one of the first casualties, with some restrictions introduced in most countries.
A 1993 law sponsored by the Church stipulated that a pregnancy could only be terminated to protect the mother’s life, when the foetus was irreparably damaged, or if it were the result of rape or incest.”
Any hope of relaxing those laws virtually vanished with these elections.
8. Also of interest is Poland’s relationship with the U.S. after these elections. As we know, Poland was clear why they joined the Coalition of the Willing: “We have never hidden our desire for Polish oil companies to finally have access to sources of commodities,” [Poland's Foreign Prime Minister] Mr Cimoszewicz told the Polish PAP news agency. Access to the oilfields “is our ultimate objective,” he added.”
According to Poland, the U.S. promised Poland all sorts of stuff:
“Since Warsaw sent ground troops to the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003, frustration has grown over unfulfilled expectations. Even though Washington never made concrete promises, Poles hoped their sacrifices would gain them visa-free travel to the United States, lucrative contracts in reconstructing Iraq and more U.S. investment for Poland’s economy and science.”
As such, “Prime Minister Marek Belka’s defeated government had said it would withdraw Poland’s troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, though it might keep some officers there as advisers. The challengers said they might be open to keeping them there longer if a “new contract” can be negotiated with the United States.”
This is an interesting time for Poland and Polish politics will continue to make an impact on the world around them.