Split plat­form: How the Pol­ish op­po­si­tion is cop­ing with de­feat and dis­il­lu­sioned vot­ers

How the Pol­ish op­po­si­tion is cop­ing with de­feat, abuse of power scan­dals and the new de­mands of dis­il­lu­sioned vot­ers

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Olha Vorozh­byt

When tens of thou­sands of Poles held protests against the Law and Jus­tice (PiS) govern­ment in May, some peo­ple called this ev­i­dence of a strong op­po­si­tion. Mem­bers of the rul­ing party, in con­trast, crit­i­cised the re­luc­tance of Civic Plat­form to ac­cept the re­sults of elec­tions that were held in Oc­to­ber 2015, six months pre­vi­ously.

In any case, prior to those elec­tions the im­pend­ing de­feat of the now op­po­si­tion Civic Plat­form (Plat­forma Oby­wa­tel­ska, PO) was con­sid­ered quite ob­vi­ous and al­most a done deal. Fa­tigue from the long rule of one po­lit­i­cal force (PO gov­ern­ments had been in power for the pre­vi­ous eight years) was com­ple­mented by other fac­tors, such as the "cas­sette scan­dal", while Ewa Kopacz – the suc­ces­sor to Don­ald Tusk, who had long been party leader and prime min­is­ter be­fore his move to Brus­sels – ob­vi­ously lacked the charisma and lead­er­ship skills of her pre­de­ces­sor. "Ev­ery­one knew that PO would lose, but most com­men­ta­tors thought it would be strong enough to form a coali­tion with the Pol­ish Peo­ple's Party and, per­haps, other left-wing forces in or­der to leave Law and Jus­tice out­side govern­ment. How­ever, a se­ri­ous blow to 'Plat­form' was Bro­nisław Ko­morowski's loss at the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions", says Wo­j­ciech Sza­cki, Se­nior An­a­lyst for Po­lit­i­cal Af­fairs at Poli­tyka In­sight.

De­spite these po­lit­i­cal shocks, PO gained 24.09% of the votes, but PiS took first place at the elec­tions. The fail­ure of the United Left with a re­sult that only just fell short of the elec­tion thresh­old (7.55%), as well as KORWiN and Razem (To­gether), gave Law and Jus­tice an over­all ma­jor­ity. "The elec­tion law is de­signed in such a way that the win­ner gets more seats than it would if there were more par­ties. Kaczyński's party won with a pro­por­tion of the votes no higher than PO four or eight years ago, but that re­sult was enough to cre­ate a ma­jor­ity," says Sza­cki.

Some PO vot­ers moved to PiS, but most, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, switched to the party Mod­ern (Nowoczesna), which got into par­lia­ment with the fourth-best re­sult, be­hind the pop­ulist Kukiz'15. Af­ter the elec­tions, this po­lit­i­cal force, whose ide­o­logue is con­sid­ered to be Leszek Bal­cerow­icz, en­joyed more than 20% sup­port, ac­cord­ing to opin­ion polls. How­ever, the po­ten­tial of this young and still not very well or­gan­ised party is now grad­u­ally fad­ing and it could re­quire a fresh start. In­deed, ac­cord­ing to the an­a­lyst, it could be­come a good op­po­si­tional force with 10-15% that will join broader coali­tions, although it will not be strong enough to coun­ter­bal­ance PiS.

Af­ter a dif­fi­cult first few months af­ter the elec­tions, when PO con­tin­ued to lose sup­port, the last three have al­lowed it to re­cu­per­ate and the party's rat­ings be­gan to grad­u­ally in­crease. In an in­ter­view with con­ser­va­tive weekly Do Rzeczy, party leader Grze­gorz Schetyna out­lined a new ide­o­log­i­cal vi­sion of his fac­tion as a "lib­eral-con­ser­va­tive" force, which many an­a­lysts and com­men­ta­tors per­ceived as a pos­i­tive and nec­es­sary step that would help make PO pow­er­ful enough to de­feat PiS. Although more of the peo­ple who vote for PO con­sider them­selves "left­ists", Pol­ish so­ci­ety as a whole has shifted slightly to the right in its elec­toral sym­pa­thies (ac­cord­ing to a CBOS survey, right-wing views out­weigh left-wing ones by 42% to 17%).

It would have been pos­si­ble to speak about a po­ten­tial "re­cov­ery" of PO just a few weeks ago, if it was not com­pletely nul­li­fied by an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing deputy head of the party and mayor of War­saw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz.

The scan­dal that broke out a few weeks ago with re­newed vigour ac­tu­ally has a long his­tory and is as­so­ci­ated with the repri­vati­sa­tion of prop­erty in the cap­i­tal. Pur­suant to a law (the so-called Bierut De­cree that is still in force), the state na­tion­alised 90% of pre-war War­saw. Landown­ers have the right to ap­peal to the au­thor­i­ties for a longterm lease of the prop­erty that once be­longed to them, un­less this is con­trary to cur­rent ur­ban plan­ning. In the lat­ter case, they have the right to ask for com­pen­sa­tion (such a sit­u­a­tion may arise if the rel­e­vant build­ing now per­forms cer­tain func­tions for the city, for ex­am­ple, as a school). Ac­cord­ing to Pol­ish mag­a­zine Poli­tyka, the most pop­u­lar way to re­gain prop­erty was a re­quest to an­nul an in­di­vid­ual de­ci­sion made by the com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties. The ap­pro­pri­ate doc­u­ments were sent to the Min­istry of In­fra­struc­ture and then – with the can­cel­la­tion con­fir­ma­tion – to the War­saw mayor's of­fice, which pro­vided the long-term lease. If this was not pos­si­ble, the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties had to pay com­pen­sa­tion.

Since 1989, War­saw has re­turned sev­eral thou­sand build­ings to their for­mer own­ers un­der long-term lease,

and 500 mil­lion zlo­tys (US $130mn) in resti­tu­tion had been paid out by 2013.

As the news­pa­per writes, the re­turn of prop­erty or ob­tain­ment of resti­tu­tion turned into a lu­cra­tive business for peo­ple not re­lated to the pre­vi­ous own­ers, as well as the lawyers rep­re­sent­ing their in­ter­ests.

News­pa­per Gazeta Wy­bor­cza pub­lished the first high­pro­file in­ves­ti­ga­tions of these vi­o­la­tions. In April this year, the first ma­te­rial emerged that should have been a wake-up call for the mayor. GW jour­nal­ists pointed out the link be­tween the long-term head of the War­saw Of­fice of Prop­erty Man­age­ment Jakub Rud­nicki and lawyer Robert Nowaczyk, who re­claimed 50 lo­ca­tions in War­saw for him­self and his clients, in­clud­ing a build­ing worth 160 mil­lion zlo­tys (US $42mn) near the Palace of Cul­ture. Fol­low­ing this case, Rud­nicki re­signed in 2012, and then him­self made a claim to get back his fam­ily's old prop­erty. Al­legedly, this op­er­a­tion was also un­law­ful.

Af­ter an au­dit of the War­saw Of­fice of Prop­erty Man­age­ment by the Cen­tral Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bu­reau, in April this year there was talk of fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tions started against sev­eral of­fi­cials that were in­volved in resti­tu­tion dur­ing Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz's may­or­ship. Crit­ics ac­cuse the lat­ter of not pay­ing at­ten­tion to the il­le­gal ac­tions that ac­com­pa­nied repri­vati­sa­tion over many years. This sit­u­a­tion is very con­ve­nient for politi­cians from PiS, who seek to re­move the PO mayor from of­fice. This can be done through a ref­er­en­dum (in 2013 Gronkiewicz-Waltz sur­vived a plebiscite that failed due to low turnout). Apart from such a pop­u­lar vote, the govern­ment is able to di­rectly ap­point a com­mis­sioner for the city, although this seems less likely, as it re­quires more bu­reau­cracy.

One way or another, the repri­vati­sa­tion scan­dal has been a hot topic for Pol­ish me­dia since the end of Au­gust and a trump card for PiS against PO. How­ever, it re­mains to be seen how the par­ties will deal with this mat­ter, be­cause, de­spite their fer­vour and de­mands for GronkiewiczWaltz to re­sign, it ap­pears that PiS does not have a strong enough al­ter­na­tive for the top job in the cap­i­tal city. Ac­cord­ing to Wo­j­ciech Sza­cki, if Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz ul­ti­mately re­signs, this could deal a death­blow to PO.

Repri­vati­sa­tion is not the first scan­dal to be­fall PO in re­cent years. Pre­vi­ously, the "cas­sette scan­dal" dealt a se­ri­ous blow to the rep­u­ta­tion of party, although it still con­sid­ered to be more of an eth­i­cal is­sue than one con­nected with cor­rup­tion. Mem­bers of the govern­ment of the time and busi­ness­men can be heard on the tapes, which were recorded in sev­eral ex­pen­sive War­saw restau­rants in 20132014. The record­ings were pub­lished by mag­a­zine Wprost when their "con­se­quences" could al­ready be seen: in one of the con­ver­sa­tions, In­te­rior Min­is­ter Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz and head of the Na­tional Bank of Poland Marek Belka dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing the Na­tional Bank fi­nance the pub­lic debt in the event of a se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial cri­sis that could oc­cur, ac­cord­ing to Sienkiewicz, if PiS take power. Belka agreed to this, pro­vided that Fi­nance Min­is­ter Jacek Ros­towski be dis­missed and the law on the Na­tional Bank be amended. When the di­a­logue was pub­lished, both of these con­di­tions had been met. In to­tal, seven mem­bers of the PO govern­ment came un­der fire, as well as the mar­shal of the Sejm and Ra­dosław Siko­rski, who was for­eign min­is­ter when the tapes were made.

De­spite the rel­a­tive ma­tu­rity (com­pared to other post-so­cial­ist EU mem­bers) of Pol­ish par­lia­men­tarism, it still lacks new faces and a de­cent al­ter­na­tive to cur­rent elites. The ide­olo­gies of PO and PiS are still formed by politi­cians fos­tered by the Pol­ish Peo­ple's Repub­lic.Mod­ern was able to play on its fresh­ness (de­spite its close ide­o­log­i­cal re­la­tion­ship with Leszek Bal­cerow­icz), but lacked the strength to cre­ate a strong and durable struc­ture. Mod­ern was more a party for those who wanted to flee Civic Plat­form, sens­ing its weak­ness. As for PO's prospects, some an­a­lysts point out their young faces, such as the mayor of Poz­nan Jacek Jaśkowiak, for­mer Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter RafałTrza­skowski or MP Ag­nieszka Po­maska. How­ever, their ide­o­log­i­cal vi­sion de­vi­ates from the course re­cently set by PO: they lean more to the left. Cer­tain com­men­ta­tors per­ceive them, along­side the best-known Pol­ish mayor Robert Biedroń, as a hope for a fu­ture left or left-lib­eral party of a new type, as they are rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a new gen­er­a­tion of politi­cians (Trza­skowski, for ex­am­ple, trans­lated and dis­trib­uted fly­ers for Sol­i­dar­ity while still at school, so had vir­tu­ally no direct con­tact with the so­cial­ist regime). How­ever, these peo­ple are not re­ally a prospect for the im­me­di­ate po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.

In the mean­time, the "new" poli­cies of cur­rent PO leader Grze­gorz Schetyna, or his de­sire to elim­i­nate in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion, have caused scan­dals within the party. In late July, three re­spected mem­bers were ex­pelled from it: pre­vi­ous Mayor of Wrocław Stanisław Huskowski, for­mer re­gional head of PO in Lower Sile­sia Jacek Pro­tasiewicz and ex-MEP Mar­iusz Kamiński. Schetyna called for their mem­ber­ship to be re­scinded for al­legedly cre­at­ing a "nega­tive im­age of the party". In fact, the big­gest fac­tor was his re­jec­tion of the po­si­tion of PO rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Lower Sile­sia, where he covertly ne­go­ti­ated for a coali­tion with PiS in the re­gional par­lia­ment.

How­ever, only Ewa Kopacz and Bog­dan Borusewicz voted against the de­ci­sion to ex­clude all three deputies (be­sides them, Trza­skowski was also against the re­moval of Huskowski's mem­ber­ship). Even now, Kopacz is still an im­por­tant coun­ter­weight to Schetyna in the party. She ef­fec­tively rep­re­sents Tusk's group­ing and, as wrote Wsieci colum­nist Stanisław Ja­necki, both are try­ing to po­lit­i­cally de­stroy Schetyna by all means nec­es­sary. The jour­nal­ist claims that politi­cians, busi­ness­men and me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Brus­sels are en­cour­aged to put pres­sure on Schetyna to re­sign. Tusk asks to be in­volved in all of the party's af­fairs, in or­der to un­set­tle the cur­rent leader and push him to make even more er­rors. That is to say, ac­cord­ing to Ja­necki, Schetyna should only be seen as a tem­po­rary chair­man.

These two camps are to­day the largest in­flu­ence groups in the party. They have two ide­o­log­i­cally dif­fer­ent vi­sions of its de­vel­op­ment: lib­eral-con­ser­va­tive for Schetyna and more left-wing, so­cial-demo­cratic for Kopacz and Tusk. Both sides may have a point, as it is en­tirely pos­si­ble that an overly sharp turn to the right would de­prive the party of its sta­ble cen­tre-left elec­torate. At the same time, mod­er­ate Chris­tian-demo­cratic ideas would en­cour­age the un­de­cided and meet the needs of Pol­ish so­ci­ety, which has re­cently moved slightly to the right.


Risky neg­li­gence. The scan­dal around repri­va­ti­za­tion of build­ings in War­saw in­volv­ing PO city mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz can deal a fa­tal blow to the party

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