Realising after two general election defeats, either side of a failed presidential bid, that it is better to have minions fronting for you, your personal brand being so toxic except to your most devoted followers, Jarosław Kaczyński stands, post-election, atop the political mountain, master of all he surveys. PO are vanquished. The left is out of parliament completely; the United Left coalition of PRL and others failed to cross the 8% coalition threshold required to take seats in parliament.
Critics can’t say he doesn’t deserve his moment: PiS triumphed across all age groups and unlike previous PiS/PO contests, they took the cities as well. The only criticism you could level is that 36,8% on a 51% turnout is not a mandate to do whatever the hell you want. Some suggested the 51% turnout showed apathy. Not really, as this turnout places 4th out of 9 general elections since 1989.
Today will see the new government take office. Premier-elect Szydło was able to bask in the victory without having to trouble herself with picking a cabinet to serve her. She was out of the country on leave while Kaczynski and his circle were deciding who would get government roles back at PiS headquarters.
On the domestic front, there have been many promises. Little will change on the economic front, despite promises. Promises that there will be taxes on banking to alleviate shocks to individuals and families unfortunate enough to have mortgages with Swiss banks. Promises that small and medium enterprises will be helped. Promises, promises. When the main employment policies of either party over the last ten years has been to export labour abroad and outsource cheaply to multinationals a well-educated workforce at home, what value has a promise?
PO and Tusk promised much and didn’t deliver a whole lot. Early on, it became clear that PO, having promised tax reforms, could only deliver miracles. Lauding an economic growth miracle doesn’t really cut it when it’s massively funded by EU grants, which don’t last forever and anyway, domestic economic expansion only compares well alongside seriously sluggish growth in the Eurozone. With the percentage of those out of work remaining stubbornly at or above 10%, the only miracle is that this level of unemployment is not regarded as criminal.
Also of interest will be the new government’s positions in international affairs. PiS have already said they feel uncomfortable accepting several thousand refugees, which is understandable when Germany is taking hundreds of thousands and Turkey, two million already.
On the migration and other issues, can he call on an ally in Brussels? Increasingly, the power to settle EU disputes lies within the European Council, whose appointed-not-elected president is one-time Kaczyński nemesis, double election winner, and former premier Donald Tusk. When Tusk’s term comes to an end, will Kaczyński support having it extended? Or won’t he? During a press conference this week, Tusk said the EU Council could work alongside the new administration. Assembled hacks managed to stir long enough to remark the lack of agreement between Tusk’s words and his body language. So no lost love lost there then.
Kaczyński’s euroscepticism will play well in other capitals in the region. It’s not surprising that Poland, given its geographical and demographic size, seeks to be a regional leader, a bulwark against imposition of orders from above, to the west. We could see himself and his ally abroad, Victor Orban, in the front seat of a late model Visegard V4, tearing up the road to ever closer union.
To the east, relations are unlikely to improve. Already, a Russian media compliant to Putin have been quick to criticise some cabinet selections, especially in defence and foreign affairs. Ukraine remains a serious problem, and Kaczyński will favour a hawkish response, at least in rhetoric, in dealings with the Putin regime. Never good, relations between Kaczyński and Putin have not improved any, especially over the aftermath of the Smolensk crash, which still rankles in relations. Russia has refused to hand over the remains of the plane to Polish investigators. Some see conspiracy in this, that something must be afoot, or why not hand it over. My own totally unsubstantiated hunch, is that there is nothing sinister in it. If examining the plane disproved conspiracy, it makes sense for Russia not to return it, which is why it’s not being handed over. Putin knows lack of closure gives him a psychological advantage. There will never be closure on it.
There will also be a major NATO summit, to be held here next July. I think the patriotic, nationalist Kaczynski would be happy for Poland to become an American base. Would the stationing of US troops here been seen as a threat to, or a guarantor of, sovereignty, and to what extent would troops on Polish soil be under Polish command?
On a happier note, President Duda has been gathering air miles recently. He stood on podiums for press conferences in Paris and Bucharest, finally arriving to The Vatican where Pope Francis bestowed on him his personal papal blessing in recognition of Duda’s good fortune this year and for the Polish head of state to deliver, from his boss, the pontiff’s instructions on the ‘line to take’ during his visit here next summer for the World Youth Congress. The pontiff may have a direct line to God, but only as the messenger of The Almighty.