Major political changes in 2007

The year 2007 brought many changes to Poland’s political scene. Some people and parties gained power. Others suffered heavy losses or even dropped out of the political scene.

The main turning point for all of the players was the parliamentary elections of Oct. 21. The voting came after the Law and Justice party-led government dissolved parliament and scheduled a snap election after two years in office.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski had little choice. His coalition with two smaller parties – the Self-Defense party and the League of Polish Families – disintegrated in August due to several scandals and ongoing tension.
That led to the Civic Platform party ousting Law and Justice.
In the 2005 elections the Law and Justice party won the most seats with 27 percent of the vote. Its main rival, the Civic Platform party, got 25 percent.
Four other parties earned seats in the lower house that year: the: populist Self-Defense party, with 11 percent of the vote; the Alliance of the Democratic Left, with 11 percent, the League of Polish Families with 8 percent and the Polish Peasants’ Party with 7 percent.

Two years later, voter sentiment had changed, with more favoring the two largest parties over the smaller ones. Political journalists maintained that this shift was bringing Poland closer to a two-party system.

Law and Justice’s former coalition partners, the Self-Defense party and the League of Polish Families, had almost no support in October’s elections.
A key reason the Self-Defense party was battered was scandal. The most prominent party member to be accused of a crime – bribery – was Agriculture Minister Andrzej Lepper, the Self-Defense chairman.
Law and Justice capitalized on Self-Defense’s disintegration by picking up many of its conservative voters.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform party won big in the elections, obtaining 42 percent of the vote. While having to give up the reins of government, Law and Justice topped its 2005 performance with 32 percent of the votes.

The voter turnout was 54 percent of the electorate – or roughly 17 mln people. That made it the biggest in post-Communist Poland.
Two other parties managed to get seats in the lower house: the Left and Democrats with 13 percent and Polish Peasants’ Party with 9 percent. The Civic Platform party asked the peasants party to join it in forming a governing coalition.

The Self-Defense party got 2 percent of the vote and the League of Polish families 1 percent – far below the 5 percent threshhold needed for lower-house seats. Neither is likely to play an influential role in Polish politics again, analysts say.
Law and Justice leaders are looking for a new strategy for returning to power.

Law and Justice attracted few of Poland’s young voters in the 2005 election. It also fared poorly in the big cities. One of its biggest challenges will be reversing those trends.
Another problem the party needs to deal with is what some complain is the leadership’s inability to accommodate diverse views.

The membership recently re-elected Kaczynski as chairman. But some members say they are unhappy with his refusal to listen to other views. Prominent members Kazimierz Ujazdowski and Pawel Zalewski left the party last week after an argument with the former prime minister.

Civic Platform’s future appears bright but major challenges await Tusk and his cohort.

Doctors’, nurses’ and teachers’ strikes last summer diminished popular support for Kaczynski’s government. The issues that caused the strikes are still unresolved.
The opposition will be ready to pounce if the ruling coalition is unable to deal with medical practitioners’ and teachers’ grievances – and any other important domestic matter.
As in previous years, 2007 brought scandals that decreased Poles’ trust in politicians.

The biggest was what government investigators say was Agriculture Ministry officials’ efforts to obtain bribes. The bribes were to be taken for changing the status of rural land in Mazury, a region in northeast Poland. The Central Anti-Corruption Bureau was investigating the issue when the situation became public.

News of the investigation led to potential witnesses clamming up. So far the government has failed to bring any charges in this case.

Tomasz Lipiec, the sports minister in the Kaczynski government was arrested on allegations of bribery in October. Prosecutors accuse him of taking bribery in the awarding of the contract to build the National Sports Center.

In July, Self-Defense parliamentarian Stanislaw Lyzwinski was charged with raping of Urszula K., who claimed she was raped after asking Lyzwinski for a job. During the election campaign, prosecutors charged Civic Platform parliamentarian Beata Sawicka with bribery for setting up a tender of a parcel in Hel, a city in northern Poland.

In the year 2007 high-profile politicians announced their withdrawal from public life. Former two-term President Aleksander Kwasniewski came back to lead Left and Democrats party’s election campaign. When the party faltered in the balloting, he said he would not return to politics again.

Jan Rokita, whom some political analysts in early 2007 believed would be Civic Platform’s prime minister if the party pulled off an election victory, left the party shortly before the October elections.

One reason was that several run-ins with Tusk had hurt his standing in the party. Another was that his wife Nelly had taken an important in President Lech Kaczynski’s office.
In January, Leszek Balcerowicz ended his term as chairman of the National Bank of Poland and decided to found a non-governmental organization.

He was the key author of the plan to turn Poland into a free-market economy in the early 1990s and also former chairman of the centrist Freedom Union party.

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