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Tangled and taped
Sep 28th 2006 | WARSAW
From The Economist print edition
Central Europe's political ructions spread to Poland
RICKETY, ineffectual and quarrelsome, Poland's coalition has broken apart. If
it cannot be glued back together, an election will be held, probably on
November 26th. The government lost its majority when Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin
brother of the president, prime minister and leader of the main party, Law
and Justice, sacked Andrzej Lepper, who leads the second-biggest coalition
party, a leftist agrarian bunch called Self-Defence, for insisting on higher
Mr Kaczynski had hoped to tame the rumbustious Mr Lepper in May, when he made
him deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture and rural development. For
a time, a sniff of power gave an unlikely veneer of respectability to a party
known for its stunts, sleaze and sensationally impractical policies. But Mr
Lepper chafed. He was particularly miffed not to be consulted about the
recent despatch of extra Polish troops to Afghanistan.
The prime minister's fallback plan is to split Mr Lepper's party. He has won
over eight deputies from Self-Defence, but that is not enough for a majority.
On September 26th Polish television broadcast two taped conversations of
separate members of Mr Kaczynski's party trying to win over a Self-Defence
deputy by offering her a senior job (“we've got lots”). Opposition parties
screamed about a big scandal; Law and Justice responded laconically
that “politics is dirty”.
And how. Mr Lepper's deputies have signed IOUs to the party for the
equivalent of $177,000, cashable if they switch sides, an unorthodox approach
to party discipline that may be illegal. Mr Kaczynski has other possible
plans. One is to win over the Peasants' Party, but its leader, Waldemar
Pawlak, does not trust him. Attempts to poach deputies from Civic Platform,
Law and Justice's centre-right rival and former ally, have failed.
At least the economic situation is not as bad as in Hungary. One difference
is that Poland's finances are solid. The country's currency and credit
ratings are firm. Annual GDP growth is a buoyant 5.5%, the budget deficit is
shrinking and the current-account deficit is less than 2%.
If he cannot find a new majority, Mr Kaczynski may have to concede an early
election—barely a year after the previous one. His record is not awful, but
it is lacklustre. The government has been energetic over reforms in defence,
the intelligence services and criminal justice. But it has been ineffective
in reforming the state bureaucracy and in using EU money to build better
roads and more houses. And it has been dreadful on foreign policy.
The most likely outcome of an election, if one were held, is that Law and
Justice and Civic Platform would win 25-30% of the vote apiece, and Self-
Defence would be the only other party in parliament. Poles seem to want a
reformist conservative government. Their politicians are oddly unwilling to