Fallen liberal idol sets up new party “Now!”

Ryszard Petru. Photo: PAP/Bartłomiej Zborowski

The former leader and founder of the Modern Party Ryszard Petru is setting up a new party, “Now!”. Mr Petru was deposed as leader of the Modern Party last year and left it in May of this year.

Speaking at the press conference announcing the launch of the new party held in the renovated former cinema hall “Magic” in Warsaw Mr Petru argued that there was a need for a new party that would concentrate on helping business and social progress. He announced that the party would hold its inaugural convention on 9 December.

Asked about his attitude towards the present liberal opposition , the Civic Coalition (KO) Mr Petru said that it was not enough to just oppose the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) but said that his party would not be attacking other opposition parties, was open to cooperation with them and expected they would not attack the new party he is forming.

Those with long memories may recall that there was a prominent magazine in Great Britain launched by the entrepreneur James Goldsmith called “Now!”. The magazine was on the market for two years between 1979 and 1981 before it was wound up. It remains to be seen if Mr Petru can create magic that will make his “Now!” last longer than that ill-fated venture.

The Petru story

Ryszard Petru was for years an aide to Leszek Balcerowicz, the twice Finance minister and former leader of the Freedom Union, a party that was influential in Polish politics in the 1990s. Mr Petru went on to have a successful career in the banking sector. He engaged fully in politics in 2015 when he created the “Modern Party” in opposition to both the governing Civic Platform (PO) and PiS.

Modern under Petru at first was highly critical of the PO for failing to pursue liberal economic policies. However, once PiS came into power the two parties , though rivals, came closer together in opposition to the new government.

The turning point for Ryszard Petru and his party came in 2016. Together with the PO it engaged in a parliamentary protest against the government occupying the debating chamber. However, at a key stage of the protest over the New Year it was revealed by the press that Mr Petru went on holiday with his parliamentary colleague and now life partner, Joanna Schmidt. Both the Modern Party politicians were married at the time, though not to each other.

The position of both Mr Petru and his party went into free fall in opinion polls and he was deposed as leader in late autumn of 2017. Together with two other Modern Party MPs he left the party in May 2018 and announced he would be creating a new party after the local government elections were over.

His previous party is now in coalition with the PO in the Civic Coalition (KO). Mr Petru’s new party, when it actually gets going, may face the same problem as other small parties such as the European Democrats party, created by some MPs who left the PO in 2016. If it fails to register electoral support it will not be attractive to the KO and will wither on the vine.

Polish political history is strewn with the failures of break-away parties.There are of course exceptions to that rule. Both the PO and PiS were once effectively break-aways from larger and better established political entities.