Analysis: Opposition feels wind in its sails

In the aftermath of a scandal surrounding the Ministry of Justice and following two opinion polls that have shown that the three major opposition forces could rustle up a parliamentary majority after the elections. So, some wind in the opposition’s sail, but in which direction would that wind take it?

The scandal surrounding the Ministry of Justice over involvement of its officials in waging social media hate campaigns against judges who opposed the government’s judicial reforms led to the resignation of a deputy minister and the sacking of another official. Two polls taken since the scandal broke, and published on Friday, indicate a fall in support for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS).

A survey conducted by the Kantar agency indicates that the ruling party has lost five percentage points and is polling 39 percent. It shows the main opposition Civic Platform (PO) Civic Coalition (KO) with 30 percent (up three percentage points on the last survey), the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD led Left coalition) on 11 percent and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) led Polish Coalition on six percent. If this poll was translated into seats, the ruling party would no longer have a majority in Parliament.

Another survey by the Social Changes agency records a smaller fall for the ruling party and estimates that it has 43 percent support. KO records 31 percent, SLD 13 percent and the PSL eight percent. Once again, no majority for the ruling party.

While today’s ruling party would still easily be the biggest party in Parliament, on the basis of those polls the KO, SLD and PSL could rustle up a majority against it and take power. All three were, after all, in one electoral coalition (European Coalition) for the European elections.

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PSL holds the balance of power

In the post-election scenario in which PiS has lost its majority and the KO, SLD and PSL together could have a majority, it is the PSL that would hold the balance of power. It could after all coalesce with the largest party (PiS). Since PiS and PSL agree on state-church relations, cultural conservatism, social policy as well as state intervention in the economy, such a coalition would seem to be natural - and its easier to form a two-party governing coalition than a three-party one.

However, PSL and PiS are fighting for the same electorate in rural and small town areas. They have never coalesced in a government before, whereas PSL has been in coalitions with both the PO and the SLD.

Direction of travel for a KO-SLD-PSL government

If the KO, SLD and PSL were to join forces, there would have to be compromises. PSL left the European Coalition over cultural liberalism. This means that they would not accept any policies such as liberalisation of the abortion law, same sex civil partnerships or taxing the Church.

The PO would not be able to pursue a liberal economic agenda which would be disapproved of by both the SLD and PSL. PiS social policies would have to stay in place, as both PSL and SLD support them.

So what would change? The first thing the partners in such a government would be able to agree on would be to punish PiS politicians for alleged breaches of the constitution and the law. PO and SLD would insist on that, and the PSL, while they may not want to go too far with in this regard, would have to agree.

Second, there would be changes in the judiciary, the prosecution service, public administration and the public media. All three parties accuse PiS of having stripped them of independence, so major changes would be inevitable.

Third, since all the opposition parties are making major spending commitments, they would be obliged to at least attempt to deliver on some of them. One way of doing so would be by making cuts in defence spending. The leader of the PO Grzegorz Schetyna has already indicated that he would review the agreement between Poland and the US over the presence of additional US troops on Polish soil, which would entail a major review of defence policy and spending. The PSL and the SLD would both happily see public spending on defence reduced.

Finally, the three parties would want to make radical changes in foreign policy, especially in relation to the EU. Poland would once more be far more receptive to greater EU integration. In order to make a significant move in this area, it would not be hard to see the new coalition announcing a timetable for Poland joining the Eurozone, as well as changing Poland’s tough stance on accepting quotas for the resettlement of refugees.

There is a constitutional problem with ditching the Polish currency, the zloty, however. The constitution names the zloty as Polish currency and to change the constitution a two thirds parliamentary majority is required. No such majority is likely in the near future.

But there could be a by-pass here. The government, as long as it could avoid a Presidential veto, could announce that since membership of the single European currency is a requirement stipulated in Poland’s accession treaty, no constitutional change is required. As long a the Constitutional Tribunal did not question this, it could be forced through.