Polish presidential election: Komorowski’s victory augurs massive social attacks in Poland

By Marius Heuser
6 July 2010

Bronislaw Komorowski, the candidate of the governing conservative Civic Platform (PO) party was able to win 52.6 percent of the vote in the second round of the Polish presidential election held on Sunday.

Komorowski’s rival, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, obtained 47.4 percent of the ballots. Jaroslaw Kaczynski stood as a candidate for the presidency following the death of his twin brother and the country’s former president, Lech, in an airplane crash in April 2010.

Fearful of the social repercussions and also the short-term political implications for his party, Law and Justice (PiS), former president Kaczynski vetoed some of the most drastic anti-social legislation introduced by the PO government. His brother Jaroslaw, who headed the government from 2005 to 2007, also shrank back from implementing cuts in an openly provocative manner whenever possible. Notably in the recent presidential election campaign, Jaroslaw regularly employed social demagogy, appealing to those hit hard by previous austerity measures.

Komorowski, on the other hand, was from the outset “the desired candidate of business and the financial markets” (Financial Times Deutschland). He is also a close friend of Poland’s right-wing Prime Minister Donald Tusk and was promoted by Tusk inside the PO.

Komorowski’s election means that every critical political position in Poland is now occupied by a Civic Platform representative. In the election campaign the party made clear that it would use the presidency to implement long-planned attacks on the country’s social and health systems, and push forward with its program of privatizations. Polish stock markets reacted positively to Komorowski’s takeover of the presidency and the Polish zloty rose on Monday by nearly one percent against the euro.

In the last three years, the Tusk government has carried out a series of attacks on workers and, in particular, pressed ahead with the privatization of state-owned enterprises. In February 2009 the government launched a program of cutting 19.7 billion zloty (about 4.2 billion euro), involving 2 billion zloty in defense cuts, with the rest to be deducted from education and social spending. In addition, the country’s labor law was reformed to enable employers to more easily sack workers or cut their hours. As a result of the cuts program, an estimated 12,000 layoffs will be carried out in the public service alone over the coming months.

The employment situation in Poland has been further worsened by the many dismissals currently being carried out at private companies. The massive insurance company, PZU, whose shares have just been floated on the stock exchange, plans to eliminate 2,000 jobs.

In 2009 the Polish state took in 14.3 billion zloty from the privatizations of state holdings. In 2010 this sum is expected to rise to 25 billion.

The Polish Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski told the press agency PAP the aim of the government was to reduce the country’s debt burden from the current 6.9 percent to 3 percent of GDP by 2012, or at the latest 2013. This is one of the criteria stipulated for the country to gain membership in the European monetary union. Monetary Policy Council member and professor of economics, Zyta Gilowska, has estimated that the government must cut up to 60 billion zloty over the next two years to reduce its debt burden and achieve its targets.

Such a program of cuts undoubtedly means fierce social attacks on the population. These will now be implemented by Tusk and Komorowski together. On the evening of the presidential election the latter explained, “Starting Monday we must begin to work still harder. We want to spend money reasonably and that requires the support of both politicians and citizens. I will ask my political partners and parliament to help me establish somewhat greater discipline in our budget.”

Bronislaw Komorowski knows what he is talking about when it comes to budgetary “discipline.” From 1989 to 1990 he was a cabinet director in the office of the Council of Ministers, and as deputy defense secretary from 1990 to 1993 was a member of the cabinet responsible for the “shock therapy” in Poland, which rapidly and forcefully introduced the capitalist free market economy. Mass unemployment, poverty and inflation were the results.

Earlier in his career, in the late 1970s, Komorowski was part of the Christian dissident opposition to Stalinism. Following the emergence of the Solidarity trade union in 1980-81 as a mass phenomenon, Komorowski and his ilk sought to orientate the movement to the Catholic Church and the West. After a short period of internment during the period of martial law, Komorowski became a teacher in a Catholic seminary in Niepokalanów.

After playing a key role in the restoration of capitalism, he remained active in right-wing political formations. He joined the Freedom Union (UW) and functioned as its general secretary from 1993 to 1995. When the party took power in a coalition with the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) in 1997 and imposed far-reaching welfare cuts, in order to fulfil criteria for the country’s entry into the EU, Komorowski held the post of chairman of the defense committee. During this period, in 1999, Poland became a member of NATO. In the last year of the governing coalition, by which time it was thoroughly discredited, he took over the post of defence secretary.

Together with many other members of the coalition, such as Tusk and Jan Rokita, Komorowski finally abandoned the sinking government ship and joined one of the new formations, which had emerged from the ruins of the old coalition: the PO. He continued to remain a deputy in the Sejm, the lower chamber of the Polish parliament. When the PO took over power after the elections of 2007, he was its parliamentary president.

With regard to foreign policy Komorowski, like Tusk and unlike his predecessor, wants to orientate Poland more in a European direction. Ruling circles in Warsaw have already given their seal of approval for the European-wide austerity measures demanded by the German government, and Berlin welcomed Komorowski’s victory. The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle declared in Berlin that Komorowski’s victory sent a strong pro-European signal. “With President Komorowski, just like Prime Minister Tusk and Foreign Minister [Radoslaw] Sikorski we will have a strong partner for this course of confidence and co-operation.”

From the standpoint of the ruling elite the most important qualification of the personally uninspiring and rather deadpan Komorowski is his long-term association with his political companion in arms, Tusk. As a team they are regarded as capable of implementing draconian savings measures.

Bearing this in mind, the narrow result of the election comes as no surprise. A turnout of approximately 55 percent means that just over a quarter of the electorate voted for Komorowski, one of a crowd of reactionaries and political nobodies in Poland. His victory comes largely by default: the severe lack of genuine political alternatives.

The second round was a run-off between the arch-conservative Kaczynski and Komorowski. Kaczynski was wily enough to employ social demagogy directed at the ruthlessness of his rival, but is himself not the slightest alternative to Komorowski. In his period as prime minister and the during the presidency of his brother, he had signed into law the austerity measures decided upon by the previous administration—with one or two cosmetic changes. After some hesitations, the course of privatizations was also continued.

As prime minister, Kaczynski merged into government the two extreme right-wing and openly anti-Semitic parties, the League of Polish Families (LPR) and Self-Defense of the Republic of Poland (Samoobrona), and inaugurated a program of massively strengthening the state apparatus. At the same time, Jaroslaw Kaczynski increased the brothers’ influence over the state by expanding presidential powers and inserting cronies in key state positions. He justified the changes by resorting to the crassest forms of chauvinism, nationalism and homophobia.

The fact that the second round of voting was reduced to a choice between two repugnant, right-wing figures is first and foremost the result of the policies of the Socialist Left Alliance (SLD), which traces its origins to the one-time Polish Stalinist ruling party, whose candidate in the first round Grzegorz Napieralski notched 14 percent of the vote. The SLD has been unable to recover from its slump in support following its period in power from 2001 to 2005. Popular discontent with the policies of the SLD is deep-seated. Like other social-democratic governments in Europe, the SLD implemented fierce attacks on the working class in a government characterised by corruption and nepotism.

The Polish working class was given no choice in the presidential election. It is now confronted with a president, who together with Tusk, is determined to implement austerity measures on behalf of the ruling elite.

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