Poland holds parliamentary elections today. The main contenders for the premiership are the Civic Platform of incumbent Donald Tusk and the Law and Justice Party of former PM Jaroslav Kaczynski.
As Euronews notes:
Whoever wins tonight will have to form a coalition with one or more of three smaller parties including Tusk’s current junior partner the Polish Peasants’ Party, which is seeing its support slip.
A left-wing liberal newcomer, Palikot’s Movement, a splinter from Civic Platform, may confuse matters. Among other things it wants to eliminate the power and privileges of the Catholic church in public life.
The latter party is interesting, not only due to its newness, but because it clearly is attempting to shake up the existing Polish political spectrum, through both its party platform and the profiles of its individual candidates. DW reports:
Palikot became notorious in Poland’s conservative circles because of his outspoken attacks on the church. Insiders say this was also the reason why he was kicked out of the ruling Civic Platform party, which was keen not to upset the church. In this election campaign, Palikot has made anticlericalism his main weapon.
The party’s lists of candidates are also of interest:
Its candidates include Anna Grodzka, a transsexual woman whose public battle with the Polish legal system after sex reassignment surgery made her something of a celebrity, and Poland’s best-known gay activist, Robert Biedron.
Poland uses open-list PR,1 so the personal followings of candidates can be critical to the success of a party, especially a new one like Palikot’s. An article from this past July, when Palikot was still setting up his party, said that “Palikot also declared that figures from the worlds of sport and music were in line to run as candidates for his party.” He also said his lists would have equal numbers of men and women, as well as many young people. “It’s time to cure the Polish party system, which is ill and undemocratic,” he said in the interview.
While the Euronews story, quoted above, gets it right, other news items (and especially headlines) predictably fail to appreciate multiparty politics. For instance, Business Week’s “Poles may re-elect premier” and Reuters Canada’s “Polish PM seeks new reform mandate in election“.
Poland has a highly fragmented party system, so the leading party is quite likely to have only around a third of the votes and seats. This will necessitate post-election coalition bargaining. Plus, the presidency in Poland’s premier-presidential system is far from merely ceremonial.2 The presidency is held by Civic Platform, whose candidate Bronislaw Komorowski defeated Kaczynsni, 53-47, in a runoff in July, 2010. In the first round of that election, Komorowski won around 41% of the vote. Can his party come close to that level in an election more than one year after the presidential election? Typically, the answer in presidential and semi-presidential elections would be no: beyond the president’s “honeymoon” and with the presidency itself not at stake, we can expect the party to poll considerably lower. The fact that the party holds the presidency, however, makes it likely that it will also retain the premiership, following post-election bargaining. The only hope for Kaczinnski would be a decisive lead, plus a good showing for parties clearly more compatible with his party than with Komorowski’s. That seems unlikely.
- That is, once parties are assigned seats in proportion to their votes in multi-seat districts, those seats are assigned within each party’s lists solely on the basis of how many votes candidates receive personally. Under Poland’s variant, the voter must cast a candidate-preference vote, as there is no party-only option. [↩]
- That is, the presidency is directly elected. The prime minister and cabinet are responsible to the majority in parliament (the Sejm, the first chamber of the bicameral legislature). The president has no constitutional authority to dismiss a PM, but has initiative in designating a PM-to-be. Poland’s president also has a veto on legislation that requires 3/5 to override. [↩]