Tuesday

17th Sep 2019

Opinion

Polish Left need to unite for October election

  • Any decision to run together in the October national polls will ultimately be taken in Warsaw - but if the decision is not to unite, the European Left and the Greens will end up paying a hefty price (Photo: Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The recent elections to the European Parliament showed that there is potential for a fully-fledged Green-Left progressive political movement in Poland.

Two political parties, SLD (Union of Democratic Left) and Wiosna (Spring), both aligned to the EU's Socialists & Democrats (S&D), managed together to get eight MEPs elected.

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While two other parties, Razem (Together, in the GUE/NGL) and Zieloni (Greens, Greens/EFA), despite not returning any MEPs, were successful enough to raise their profile.

But these four parties appeared on three different lists in the ballot papers.

So while there is indeed potential, the Left is unnecessarily fragmented ahead of the crucial elections to the Polish parliament in October. At this point, the unification of the parties is the deciding question for the survival of the Polish Left.

Social democrats and green political parties in Poland do not have a favourable history.

The transformation after communism and the ensuing paradigm shift to get the economy into a hyper-growth kicked the Left out of the political mainstream, rather than contributing to harnessing support for them.

This lack of a de facto social agenda was successfully used by the Kaczynski twins' PiS, who presented the first pro-social polices since 1989.

The only leftish party to survive this period was SLD, mostly due to the financial resources that it had accrued from old times. New political parties emerged over the last two decades, but none made it very far, until recently.

The "new left", embodied by parties like the few-months-old Wiosna or the slightly-older Razem, have made a good efforts to gain non-traditional support for the Left. Robert Biedron (MEP for Wiosna, S&D) managed to unite progressives on civil liberties, pro-nature attitudes and elements of social protection.

On the other hand, Adrian Zandberg, leader of Razem, has the intellectual gravitas needed for any political party to build a movement attractive to young people. In addition, the green political agenda has been largely abandoned by existing parties and is therefore also up for grabs.

It is clear to many why Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his government are bad news for everyone, including for the EU as a whole.

Hungary's Viktor Orban, and his 'democracy a-la-carte' is the model that PiS will continue to follow.

October election

October's elections are the chance to stop it.

The morale of the Polish opposition is low after the EP elections, won marginally by the governing party. But the electoral mathematics of the EP elections does not translate directly to the national polls, which are based on a different rationale and have much higher turnouts.

Given that the failed approach of uniting into a single pro-EU block led to confusion of voters, tensions between agendas and disintegration, the only remaining alternative to overturn Kaczynski's run on power is for the opposition to run in two blocks; this would bring to the table enough seats in the parliament to form a majority.

Centre-right gap?

The Civic Platform (PO, European People's Party), the former party of Donald Tusk, together with the PSL (also EPP) are a good enough match to occupy the centre-right gap.

Their mistake in past election was trying to be progressive, which is simply not believable to voters and alienates the democratic Right. Their job is to undermine Kaczynski from the left, but not to pretend to be the Left.

For Wiosna, Razem, SLD and the Greens, it is time to get mature enough and to honestly ask themselves: who can contribute what, in order to pool forces and to admit that each of them has their own strengths.

Bringing together the resources of the old left, the spirit of the new progressives and the charisma of the leftist intellectuals to build a single movement is their one big chance to contribute to changing the government in Poland.

Equally important, the unification of the Left would secure a strong enough position to force some progressive reforms on any future coalition government with the PO.

For the GUE/NGL, S&D and the Greens/EFA, it would be more than attractive to have someone to talk to in the Polish government for the first time since the 2005 when the former prime minister, Marek Belka (newly-elected MEP, S&D) concluded his PM mandate.

Having the additional progressive votes in the council is needed now more than ever on big dossiers like climate and energy, jobs for youth, internet and data protection regulations as well as the environment.

Obviously the decision to run together in the October national polls will ultimately be taken in Warsaw.

But with that in mind, if the decision is not to unite the parties into one, the European Left and the Greens will end up paying a hefty price.

Author bio

Bartek Lech is a political analyst, associated with the Polish Left and the Greens since 2003, and a former advisor in the European Parliament and recently democratisation consultant working with international organisations such as the OSCE and the Carter Center.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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