Governing Challenges

The minority government will have to seek alliances or a formal coalition with radical parties to help push through its agenda.

A minority government was established following the Fall 2005 parliamentary elections. Two center-right parties – the Law and Justice Party (PiS) and the Civic Platform Party (PO) – had received the most votes (28% and 26% respectively), but differences between the two – mainly over economic strategies and political disagreements – prevented the anticipated formation of a coalition government. Law and Justice subsequently formed a minority government.  The previous ruling party, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which is descended from the former communist party, won only 11% of the vote. It lost largely because of numerous corruption scandals during its tenure and its failure to tackle Poland’s high unemployment rate of 18%. In the October presidential race of the same year, Lech Kaczynski (PiS) won 54% of the vote, beating his rival Donald Tusk (PO), who received only 46%.

The Law and Justice Party drew much of its support from pensioners, lower-income voters, rural voters, and others who felt they had been under-represented in the past. Its platform urged welfare reforms, the strengthening of social benefits, curbing corruption, and the defense of Catholic and family values (the country is 90% Catholic). Law and Justice also played skillfully on the fears of voters who were skeptical about European integration and concerned that they would be hurt by further economic reforms. For example, PiS leaders have expressed skepticism about Poland’s plan to adopt the euro by the scheduled date of 2011. President Kaczynski has stated that Poland should hold a referendum on joining the euro zone despite the fact that Poland has already agreed to expedite euro-entry preparations. Civic Platform, on the other hand, was committed to the promotion of a free market economy, including the rapid adoption of the euro and the introduction of a 15% flat tax. It attracted well-educated, market-oriented urban voters who wished to enjoy the benefits of European integration and globalization.

PiS decided to govern as a minority party because it was able to gain the support of two radical parties that shared parts of its domestic platform: the nationalist League of Polish Families (LPR) and the Farmers’ Self-Defense Party (Samoobrona). In May 2006 PiS entered into a formal coalition with the two parties. In the current coalition government, the LPR’s leader, Roman Giertych, is deputy prime minister in charge of education and Andrzej Lepper, the head of Samoobrona, is also a deputy prime minister whose portfolio includes agriculture and rural development. On the international front, both these parties have Euro-skeptic tendencies and are staunchly anti-Russian. This political fact will probably complicate Polish-Russian relations as well as Polish compliance with EU-mandated economic reforms.

Given the fragility of the coalition government, it is not unlikely that cabinet posts, including that of prime minister, will be reshuffled periodically to bolster parliamentary support or fight off votes of no confidence. The likelihood that the government will stay in power for its full term depends on how it tackles Poland’s social and economic problems. However, new elections appear unlikely at this time. The Polish president has the constitutional authority to call new elections if successive governments fall or if he/she determines that the current parliament is unlikely to produce a functional government. It seems unlikely that President Lech Kaczynski would act against his own Law and Justice Party, but that could change if PiS and its allies decide that new elections would serve their interests over those of the opposition.

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