If Donald Tusk wins this Sunday’s elections it will be a first for Poland since the fall of Communism there in 1989. The prime minister’s job is up for grabs but Tusk stands a fair chance of getting an unprecedented second term at the head of the liberal Civic Platform party.
Their duel with the conservatives may be a tight call but the economy’s relatively good health gives the incumbent an edge over Tusk’s conservative rival, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. They have been contesting the political limelight for years.
In 2007, Tusk won and succeeded Kaczynski in the premier’s post while Jaroslaw’s brother Lech was president. Tusk had held the vice presidency of the senate and then the lower house of parliament, always with a heartfelt image.
A convinced liberal since his youth, and strongly in favour of European integration, he supports reinforcing EU institutions and further privatisation in Poland. He believes in less state intervention and more entrepreneurship, and the slogan ‘Poland under construction’. It has worked for him until now. The country weathered its entry into the EU in 2004 well. It is not yet a euro zone member.
Some 38 million Poles have enjoyed a prosperous economy in spite of the crisis. Poland proudly maintained growth during it, a rare feat. Last year its GDP rose to 3.8%. Its expected deficit of 6.5% this year is forecast to fall below 3% next year. But unemployment has remained quite high.
The driving ambition of the more conservative Kaczynski at the head of the Law and Justice party is to return to power. He managed to harness the emotion of the country after the Smolensk air crash disaster in which his president-twin was killed last year. Kaczynski suggested it involved a conspiracy between Tusk and the Russians.
Kaczynski has generally assailed his rival’s policies. Some say his reputation is authoritarian, he is anti-Russian, anti-German, Euro-sceptic and combative against Brussels. He opposes new privatisations and plays the patriotic card for all it is worth.
Those are the main contenders. Apart from them there is not much. The SLD left, led by Grzegorz Napieralski, has been weak since 2005. Only about ten percent of the electorate say they will vote SLD. The same goes for the traditional Peasants’ Party, though it has often been in coalition governments. The anti-clerical Ruch Palikota party is predicted to win around 7% of the vote.