Can Elections Pull Poland's Politics Out of the Gutter?
The Polish Sejm has voted to dissolve itself two years ahead of regularly scheduled elections, with new voting planned for October 21. The country has watched its leaders lurch from one crisis to the next, without a clear sense of purpose or attention to critical domestic issues. In recent months, the government has been racked by scandals, public embarrassments, foreign policy blunders, allegations of ties to criminal syndicates, debilitating personality clashes, and legislative gridlock -- resulting in a loss of its majority status and capacity to govern.
Early elections will provide the Sejm with the semblance of a fresh start, although key political figures are likely to remain unchanged. The European Union and United States will be watching as well, with major international agreements either postponed or potentially up for renegotiation.
Law and Justice: Background on the Ruling Party
Poland is in the unique position of being governed by twin brothers, President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, of the leading rightist Law and Justice Party. Since achieving a narrow victory in the Sejm in September 2006, the party has struggled to maintain a coalition; its latest coalition with the Self Defense Party and a radical nationalist party lasted only four months.
During previous elections, the party capitalized on a fear of rapid market reforms, labeled by the president during his campaign as a "dangerous liberal experiment." Their strongest supporters came from the countryside (gaining two-thirds of the vote there) and from Catholics who feared a dilution of traditional values. As mayor of Warsaw, President Kaczynski twice banned gay pride parades and spoke in support of reintroducing the death penalty.
The son of a freedom fighter, the president was a leading proponent of a state-of-the-art museum commemorating the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi occupation, contributing to a sense of solidarity with the older generation. He has also strived to appear as the champion of the poor in a country with an official unemployment rate of 18 percent, promising to maintain welfare benefits and rejecting tax increases proposed by the opposition to spur economic development.
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