Thursday, February 17, 2011

"What PiS touches, disappears"

Many in Poland despise the man as a symbol of communism and post-communist opportunism. Others admire his ability to survive, and not only in political terms since he lived through a helicopter crash when prime minister. But few can deny Leszek Miller has a way with words.

"What PiS touches, disappears" is how the former Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader describes in the weekly Polityka the Law and Justice's (PiS) modus operandi regarding coalitions. It is meant as a warning to SLD leader Grzegorz Napieralski and those in the party said to be considering a coalition with PiS after the October general elections.

PiS earns this 'touch of death' reputation since the cranky conservatives, when leading the coalition governments in 2005-2007, effectively destroyed the far-right League of Polish Families (LPR) and infamous populist Andrzej Lepper's Samoobrona, its supposed coalition partners.

Miller's caution comes as coalitions are the name of the game in regards to the October elections since the populist Civic Platform (PO) -- I hope you enjoy the new moniker -- is very unlikely to win outright. The most likely ruling coalition continues to be a repeat of the current one, that is, the PO with fellow populists from the Polish People's Party (PSL).

But another possible pact is a coalition of the SLD and PiS. Miller obviously opposes this, but he would. One must only remember the famous 2003 clash between Miller and PiS Turk Zbigniew Ziobro when the then PM Miller called the latter "a zero." After this, Miller did indeed disappear.
A PiS-SLD coalition seems the very epitome of exotic. The two parties are sworn enemies. They are said to occupy opposite sides of the political spectrum. For the superstitious, any coalition deal would likely be a sign of the Apocalypse. The next thing you know there'd be an eclipse, an earthquake and we'd all disappear.

In actual fact, PiS and the SLD are not dissimilar. Miller notes that the SLD's traditional ex-communist support base is fairly conservative and professes views often similar to those espoused by Radio Maryja, the ultra-Catholic radio station that backs PiS. So even on social policy there is some overlap, though the SLD's young urban social democratic wing would be furious with any deal.

PiS and the SLD also see eye to eye on economics. Neither loves the free market. Both would love to hike taxes on the rich and on banks in order to increase social handouts. Both proclaim support for the average Jan and Janina, industrial policy, big families, and the fight against unemployment.

Yet the main reason a deal is possible hearkens back to that old saying about the enemy of my enemy. Yes, PiS and the SLD could find common cause in the joint desire to stick it to the PO. In so doing they could provide the rest of us with a fine Polish example of political ebony and ivory, opposites but both part of a piano.


  1. Hi Scott - blog looks good - I'll get my own back now ;)

    Both PiS and the SLD cut taxes for the rich when they were in government. Miller's decision to bring down the business tax rate to 19% and the creation of a de-facto flat income tax rate by PiS were both beneficial to the wealthy in Poland.

    The tax break enjoyed by business has not however induced the private sector to invest recently - with public investment driving the current growth. A sensible pro-growth policy at the moment would be to introduce a more progressive taxation system and use the funds to invest in the economy.

  2. Hey.
    I give you the point that both the SLD and PiS did not run extremely socialist economic policies and did make some policy choices that would be considered liberal. However, the PiS version of this mostly consisted of 'let's cut taxes since it's popular' but 'no way we are going to adjust spending to the lower revenue total increased since that would be unpopular.' A PLN 30bn or bigger whole in public finances was thus created.

    As for investment, the problem is not really with public investment. It's on the private side. Thus, I don't think hiking personal or corporate income taxes would really help out. But having public finances in order and having them not as a threat to future economic conditions would be a service in itself, and in this the PO-led government has failed badly due to their own reluctance to do any sort of major reform, whether the socialist or liberal kind.

  3. Napieralski was on television yesterday. He mumbled about being on the left and concern for the poor, etc. But when it came to economics he totally floundered. He praised the Miller goverment for bringing down business tax to 19% - a level that is well below the European average. He also distanced himself as far as he could from a possible PiS-SLD government. The most likely option is a PO-SLD government - although I wouldn't totally rule out PO-PiS. The left should put forward an alternative economic programme of 'investment not cuts' as a programme of austerity in Poland would be economically disasterous

  4. I agree Poland could use a "real" left offering an alternative policy if only to broaden choice, which is good in my opinion. But with the PO moving away from the liberal side to the populist morass that most parties remain stuck in, the real options in Poland aren't that big in terms of economic policy.
    The trouble I can see right away with an "investment not cuts" policy is how to afford it without further worsening the state of public finances. The SLD, it should be remembered, is also very pro-euro, so it won't want to piss the European Commission off too much by widening deficits and growing public debt.