Poland election: In historic first, PM gets a second term

Poland's election Sunday returned the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk to office, marking the first time since the fall of communism that a party has won a second consecutive term.

Alik Keplicz/AP
Prime Minister Donald Tusk (c.) celebrates with Health Minister Ewa Kopacz (r.), as exit polls were published during the election party of Tusk's center-right Civic Platform, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

Poland’s Sunday parliamentary elections brought victory to the center-right Civic Platform (PO), reinforcing popular approval of the country's move toward good relations with Germany and Russia alike, as well as further integration with the European Union.

The Civic Platform bested the opposition right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came in second with 29.89 percent of the vote. The final results were announced on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s current coalition partner, the Polish Peoples’ Party (PSL), which represents the interests of the country’s rural population, was ranked fourth with an 8.36 percent share of the vote. As a result, the old-new coalition government will have a majority of 235 seats in the 460-member lower chamber.

"Civic Platform managed to win in all major Polish cities, while Law and Justice lost a number of its rural strongholds,” says Jan Filip Stanilko, an analyst with the Sobieski Institute, a conservative think tank.

Since it came to power in 2007, Mr. Tusk’s government has worked to improve Poland’s relations with its neighbors to the east – Russia – as well as to the west. Civic Platform’s pro-EU stance stood in contrast to the Euroskepticism embraced by the Law and Justice party. The party also repudiated the regional diplomacy of Mr. Kaczynski's prime ministership, during which Warsaw’s relations with Berlin and Moscow became strained.

"I want to thank all Poles for ... confirming that these four years had a profound importance for Poland,” Tusk told crowds of his supporters after the announcement of preliminary results. "During the next four years, we will all share the burden of responsibility for our homeland.”

Poland’s newspaper of record, Gazeta Wyborcza, wrote that "There is no triumph of the Civic Platform, but there is a victory. A victory which comes after four difficult years of governance in the times of crisis.” A majority of voters trusted the predictable Civic Platform, reflecting their belief that it is able to cope with looming hardships, according to the newspaper.

Economic troubles ahead?

In the second quarter of 2011, Poland’s gross domestic product grew by a robust 4.5 percent, according to data from Eurostat. However, forecasts for the second half of the year are lower, raising fears that the country’s economy is not immune to the current global turmoil.

Meanwhile, analysts say the biggest surprise of the Sunday vote was the success of a new populist party, Palikot’s Movement (RP), led by maverick politician and millionaire Janusz Palikot, a former MP for the Civic Platform.

"Palikot’s party has captured a group of voters with progressive views on the society, and took advantage of the post-communist left’s weakness,” Mr. Stanilko says.

The center-left Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) received a mere 8.24 percent of the vote, its worst score in 20 years.

Merging a libertarian, anti-big government stance on economics with socially liberal views, such as its support for gay civil unions, legalizing marijuana, and diminishing the influence of the Roman Catholic church on Polish society, Palikot’s Movement won 10.02 percent of the vote. Its 40-strong representation in the parliament includes Robert Biedron, the first openly gay MP in the Polish Sejm, and Anna Grodzka, who will be Poland’s first transsexual MP.

Law and Justice’s leader, former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said he is aiming to win with a landslide in 2015 after eight years in opposition, following in the steps of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Mr. Kaczynski’s party previously ruled the country from 2005 to 2007.

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