Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Poland Prepares For New Government

Poland's prospective new prime minister turned Monday to forming a government that wants lower taxes, Polish troops out of Iraq, and better relations with the rest of Europe. Donald Tusk, whose Civic Platform party soundly defeated Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice party Sunday, turned aside questions about an alliance with either of two smaller parties needed to reach a majority. He said after a Civic Platform leadership meeting that the new parliament would meet Nov. 5 "and only then serious talks about the political future will be possible." Another party official, Bogdan Zdrojewski, said the party's national council will meet Nov. 10 to decide on potential coalition partners. Tusk wants to turn Poland from Kaczynski's focus on rooting out former communists and toward seizing the economic opportunities that come with membership in the European Union, which Poland joined in 2004. He also wants to bring Poland's 900 troops home from Iraq and push for more rewards for Poland in return for hosting a U.S. missile defence base aimed at stopping potential attacks from Iran. With 99 per cent of the results in, Civic Platform led with 41.4 per cent and a projected 209 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament. Kaczynski's Law and Justice party trailed with 32.2 per cent and 166 seats.
Leader of the Civic Platform Donald Tusk, centre, accompanied with his wife Malgorzata, left, and his daughter Katarzyna, right, look on after the announcement of the exit polls of the general elections in Warsaw, Poland.
Turnout was 53.8 per cent, higher than in any parliamentary election since the 1989 fall of communism, a sign of the passionate debate about Poland's overall direction and place in Europe during the campaign. Two years ago, when Law and Justice defeated Civic Platform, turnout was 40.57 per cent. Kaczynski's twin, President Lech Kaczynski, has the job of nominating his brother's replacement. Lech Kaczynski is in office until 2010 and could make life awkward for the new government by exercising his veto. The new government is expected to be tighter with public money, and the Standard & Poor's credit rating agency said that while the government's debt rating was unchanged, a Civic Platform-led government "could ultimately benefit the ratings." Poland's economy has shown a strong growth rate of 5.8 per cent annually in the first six months of the year, but unemployment is at 12 per cent, and many have left for work in Britain and Ireland. The Civic Platform party wants to cap annual increases in government spending and run smaller deficits, a step that would bring Poland toward joining the euro currency. Tusk's top economic adviser, Zbigniew Chlebowski, said the party would seek to link the zloty in a 15 per cent trading band with the euro in 2009, a necessary test of monetary stability before joining. Kaczynski also supported joining the euro, but was in less of a hurry and favoured more government spending and social welfare benefits. His defeat appeared to be a verdict by younger, European-oriented Poles against his assertive stance toward Europe and his focus on barring former communists from public life. Kaczynski clashed with the European Union on a number of issues, including Polish voting strength, a proposal to build a highway through a protected peat bog and the death penalty. Short of the 231 seats needed for a majority, Civic Platform has said it could join with the Polish Peasants Party, which received 8.9 per cent and 31 seats, to form a government. Another party, the Left and Democrats, offers another possible coalition partner. Kaczynski forced the election two years early in a failed gamble to strengthen his support after a coalition with two smaller parties collapsed.