Monday, 22 October 2007

Poles go to the polls

It’s official, the right-wing government of the Kaczynski twins in Poland has been toppled. Poles turned up in record numbers in yesterday’s snap election (the highest turnout since the fall of communism in 1989), overwhelming the Polish election authorities and forcing polling stations to be open late into the night. And even before the exit polls were in yesterday, it was clear that the high turnout meant that the twins were in trouble.

The Kaczynski Twins are Jarosław, the prime minister of Poland, and Lech, the president of Poland. They are former child actors (see picture below) who in 2000 created the Law and Justice Party, a far-right, fervently Catholic party that has been running the country for a number of years now. With an absolute lock on power, the twins have pursued an aggressive agenda of going after former communists and alienating their neighbors and allies. During their time in power the twins have managed to irritate just about every other country in Europe, most notably with their comments about Germany and World War II. They’ve also been unfriendly toward the EU, holding up negotiations on the reform treaty by demanding that Poland get more seats in the European Parliament. They've also had an aggressive agenda on 'morality policy'. One Law and Justice minister even wanted to ban the Teletubbie Tinkie Winky from the country because of he is allegedly gay.

Now the liberal opposition Civic Platform party has won a landslide victory. The pro-EU party, led by Donald Tusk (pictured below), will probably form a coalition with the Polish Peasants Party to make sure it is as strong as possible. There had been some hope that a single-party government could be formed for the first time in Poland’s post-communist history, but apparently that is not to be. Don’t ask me why though, as by my count it would appear that Civic Platform could rule as a single party, and I would have thought they would want to considering the symbolic victory it would represent.

The Kaczynski team was one of the closest allies President Bush had in Europe, having participated in the Iraq War and practically bending over backwards to get in on the anti-missile action proposed by the US and criticized by Russia. But new prime minister Tusk has pledged to withdraw Poland’s 900 troops from Iraq and to reevaluate some of the other deals and promises the Kaczynski brothers made with Bush. At the same time, Tusk has pledged to repair Poland’s frayed relations with Europe and become more engaged with the EU, particularly when it comes to business.

President Lech Kaczynski doesn't face an election until 2010, but the Civic platform's win is big enough for it to be able to override his veto power.

Every Polish person I know here in London is elated about the news, not surprising since the large number of Poles voting from abroad was a big part of the reason for the massive turnout. There had been a real sense of despair about the difficult period under the Kaczynski’s, but now there is a new sense of hope, they’ve said.

These sentiments were echoed by Tusk at his victory ceremony where he told the crowd, "We went into this election in order to make everyone, without exception, feel good in their country, in their home.”

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