If everything was so great economically in Poland, why did PO lose so decisively to PIS in the fall 2015 elections?

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By Frank J. Dmuchowski

The opponents of the new PIS (Law and Justice) dominated Polish Government would have you believe that this government is some sort of evil cabal masterminded by that “political wizard and evil genius” Jarosław Kaczyński who, like the famed Pied Piper of Hamlin, seduced the young voters and others into believing that the economy was worse than it really was under the PO (Civic Platform) controlled Polish government. Consequently, it has been argued by PO supporters that with the newly seduced young voters and its core supporters of old guard nationalists and Roman Catholic ideologues and the elderly, PIS was able to pull off the greatest electoral hijacking in modern electoral Polish and perhaps European Union politics. This argument is most certainly farfetched and is an insult to the intelligence of many Polish voters.

To briefly bring this into an American context would be to argue (correctly or incorrectly) that the PIS election victory would be similar to either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders being elected president of the United States. The losing political party would go crazy and predict the end of America as we know it, similar to what is happening in Poland today.
It is interesting to note that by American standards PIS would be close to the Republicans by being strongly right of center on defense issues and the belief in American greatness as a military power which needs to be strengthened. On social issues PIS would fit in nicely with the liberal left of center social policies of the Democrats. By the way this situation is not unique to Poland as a number of other political parties among European nations have a similar views.

Why PIS may have won so decisively

The simplest explanation is: PIS won so decisively for the simple reason that a lot of Poles found themselves not taking part in the significant growth of the Polish economy which took place under the PO administration. Somehow the argument that “a rising tide lifts all boats” was not working for them and enough of the younger electorate did not believe that it would work for them in the future under the political philosophy of PO. A shocking observation for PO supporters.

It’s the Economy! Economy!! Economy!

Citizens in many countries will tolerate much. However “barring war or the significant threat of war” on their homeland they will not tolerate real or perceived personal economic injustice for very long. This is true for Americans as well as Europeans, and Poles in particular. PIS should not believe for a moment that if its action to improve the economic lot of its electoral supporters fails that it can retain power by simply appealing to core cultural and national value to retain the support of the economically disadvantaged. This is as misguided as the economic belief that a “rising tide lifts all boats”.

A thought for PIS and its core supporters: Remember the economy is the key issue!

A simplistic but accurate reminder: It was the failure of the PO running of the economy to positively impact enough of the Polish young and others that caused their downfall. The same will befall PIS if they are unable to improve the “economic lot” of enough Poles. It seems for most Poles their core philosophy and message to the new PIS controlled government is: “Get on with it and focus on economic issues. If you will not benefit us economically we will elect someone we believe will!”

The critical attack on PIS: The Polish Constitutional Court Issue. Was it a fight not only for political and legal rights, but also for the economic soul of Poland?

One of the rubs (accurately or inaccurately) against PIS is the way in which they removed justices from the Constitutional Court in late 2015. This action has been viewed by many inside and outside of Poland as the first step in establishing an authoritarian regime, not only politically but also economically. Let’s look the circumstances a little more closely.

Well in this matter some would argue that PO was not exactly behaving like “Cesar’s wife by being above suspicion” since it has been suggested they possibly engaged in politically questionable decisions in their installation of Constitutional Court justices when it became clear to them with the election of Andrzej Duda as President of Poland in June of 2015 that the PO control of the political and economic system had a good chance to come to an end.
In support of this premise I would like to quote from an interesting article on the Constitutional Court issue. It is titled “The Situation in Poland – Europe’s New Scapegoat” by Olenka Hamilton which was published in a British political magazine The Spectator on December 12, 2015. It is an interesting analysis which PIS supporters will agree with and which PO supporters will soundly disagree with.

Ms. Hamilton’s comment is:

“Europe now has a new ‘situation’: Poland. The European Parliament has been calling for a debate to discuss ‘The Situation in Poland’. They are outraged because the newly-elected Law and Justice party (PIS) has blocked the instalment of five judges to the Constitutional Tribunal, a powerful body that rules on the constitutionality of laws. The accusation against the new government, much like that against Orban, is that they are illegally sacking the judges and replacing them with their own people. But the accusations are unfounded: the restructuring of the Constitutional Tribunal had to happen as a result of corruption which took place before PIS came to power.
In June 2015, the center-right Civic Platform (PO), knowing that they were on track to lose the elections in October, wanted to secure their influence before the new government came to power by ensuring a PO majority in the Constitutional Tribunal. The judges, mostly PO appointees, cooked up a new law which stated that judges whose terms came to an end after the election could have their replacements lined up before the election. This way, the judges would be chosen by PO. The first hint of corruption was that the Constitutional Tribunal is not allowed to initiate legislation, and here it was doing just that. As a result, it is now acting as the judiciary in a trial contesting the constitutionality of a legislation it itself created. The proposal was pushed through by then-president Bronislaw Komorowski so quickly that nobody saw it happen.
They can’t have seen it happen because there is no way they would have agreed to it. For once the legislation was passed, the upcoming breakdown of the Constitutional Tribunal was set to look like this: out of 15 judges there would be 13 PO, 1 SLD (social democrats), 1 PSL (Polish People’s Party) and 0 PIS. This would mean that no legislation put forward by the governing PIS party would ever stand a chance of seeing daylight. For attempting to de-politicise the judiciary, or at least balance it out, PIS have been accused of playing the President’s puppet master, pushing him to restructure the state institutions to increase the government’s power. The Economist writes that they ‘violated the constitution to replace the previous government’s appointees on the constitutional court’. Fact, as we now know, indicates that the constitution was violated before PIS were elected.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament has had to drop discussions on the situation in Poland because it knows it doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It is obvious that ‘the situation in Poland’ refers to something else entirely, namely the fact that the Law and Justice (PIS) party is in power again, and is proving to be quite the Eurosceptic. The international media reporting from Poland toes the same line as the European Parliament, and is no less transparent in what it finds so objectionable about the new Polish government. What The Economist (magazine) is actually annoyed about is that a Eurosceptic party is in power in Poland.

Conclusion

Jarosław Kaczyński and PIS have an economic plan which the voters have decided to try. Now PIS needs to get past “political score settling” and get on with improving the economic wellbeing of all Poles. As an aside they should be very careful about suppressing political opinion and satire that they find disagreeable. Historically Poles are very sensitive about “freedom of speech,” as they have found very sophisticated and clever ways to make their opinions well known in a politically controlled environment.
One should take heed lest Poles decide again to turn to former President Kwasniewski and his political theories to improve their economic lot!

Side note: Opinions agreeing or disagreeing with this article and its content are encouraged and should be sent as a letter to editor of the Polish Weekly.

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