Parliamentary elections last month were supposed to mark a turning point in Polish politics. Sixteen years after the fall of communism, and a year after the country joined the European Union, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s centre-right Law and Justice Party, or PiS, won the most votes. The plan was to link up with the other centre-right party, Civic Platform, or PO.
Despite their differences, they agreed on the need to fight corruption and the nation’s 18 percent unemployment rate. Together, the centre-right parties won 288 seats in parliament, with the centre-left replaced by the extreme-right party, Samoobroona, as the country’s third largest political force. This provided the backdrop to the recent presidential polls: the rivals hailing from parties planning to form a coalition government. Lech Kacyznski, a twin brother of Jaroslaw, was the Law and Justice Party’s candidate. He took what observers called a populist and nationalistic line. He advocates social conservatism and the assertion of Poland’s interests. As mayor of Warsaw, he was already known for his ban on gay parades and support for the death penalty. Civic Platform’s Donald Tusk defended unpopular ideas such as making university students pay for their education and a reform of the social assistance given to farmers. During the campaign much was said about the problem of having “two Polands” – division between more liberal western areas, where Tusk found most of his support, and more conservative eastern regions where Kacynzski did well. In his victory speech, Lech Kacyznski talked about the need for reconciliation – not between the two candidates, but between those who have been driven apart in Poland over the past 16 years. Reconciliation, however, proved difficult for the two parties that seemed almost certain to form a coalition during the campaigning. Even last-minute mediation by the Catholic church failed to bring the two sides together on key issues.