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Elections in Poland: the soap opera continues

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The electoral campaign for the general elections has begun - two years early

What have the Poles done to deserve this? Throughout the whole of the last electoral campaign, Law and Justice (PiS), the conservative party that won the 2005 parliamentary elections, attempted to create a divide between the Poland of 'solidarity' and liberal Poland.

In its bid for victory it employed notions such as 'the restoration of morale', 'purification', 'decommunisation', 'the fight against corruption', and, above all, against what the party calls 'collaboration'. They spoke of 'creating the Fourth Republic'; a new, better republic which would be even freer of communists.

Back then and a week away from the elections, they still held onto the hope that they would be able to form a coalition, but political differences - not so much between the parties' programmes but rather in the highest ranks of the parties opposing the PiS - meant that an agreement was never reached. In the end, the PiS achieved a parliamentary majority thanks to the support of two controversial, ultra-conservative parties: the League of Polish Families (LPR) and Samoobrona (Self-Defence). This was in spite of the fact that throughout the electoral campaign prime minister Jarosaw Kaczyski declared that he would never co-operate with Andrzej Lepper (deputy prime minister and leader of Samoobrona, who has now been sacked from his post as a minister amid accusations of corruption).

That was the first sign that the PiS would break its electoral promises. The following months saw the abuse of public posts, sudden and 'casual' leaks of information from the archives of the Institute of National Memory (IPN), criticism of the constitutional tribunal, the appointment of incompetent people to important posts in the government's administration and its ministries, pronouncements in poor taste from the mouths of government representatives, the sacking of ministers without clear motives, constant disputes at the heart of the coalition ... to name but a few of the achievements of Kaczyski's government. All this was carried out in the name of the fight against 'collaboration'.

Leaked information

The real crisis came with the dismantling of the 'pact against collaboration'. The most curious aspect is that it is not a pact between former communists and secret services officials, but between people in Kaczyski's immediate circle. First deputy PM Lepper was accused. Lepper had been set a trap of a bribe of 3 million zlotys to turn some non-existent agricultural land into land that would be suitable for tourism. The act was a crude provocation and Lepper said in a televised interview that Zbigniew Ziobro, justice minister and the prime minister's right hand man, had tipped him off. Thus began the search for a culprit, and this search unleashed the greatest political crisis since the fall of communism: the dissolution of the Sejm (the lower house of parliament) and early elections by two years.

Beginning of the end

Overnight, Janusz Kaczmarek, minister of the interior and public administration - and a close ally of president Lech Kaczyski, his twin brother the prime minister and the justice minister - became the principal suspect of the information leaks. Since he was on holiday, Kaczmarek defended himself while at the same time accusing the government of spying and using the public prosecutor's office, the internal security agency (ABW) and the central anti-corruption office (CBA) for political purposes.

The PM and justice minister explained in interviews that an error had led to his appointment as a member of the government. The president went as far as to declare that 'Janusz Kaczmarek is the biggest disappointment of my life'. The daily press conferences with those who have been implicated have exposed some of the government's shadier dealings.

To cap it all, the public prosecutor and ABW ordered the arrest of some senior ministers, among whom were the minister of the interior and public administration (later freed because the tribunal believed that he had been arrested unlawfully), the former chief of police, the chief executive of the largest Polish insurance company PZU SA, and a major Polish businessman.

A couple of weeks earlier, they had all been allies of both president and prime minister, and the businessman was the only one in his field considered 'good and honourable'. The opposition have levied accusations of assaults on morale, the government's use of methods similar to those used by the Stasi, and of acts against democracy. The prime minister replied that this was the PiS's method of fighting 'collaboration.'

'Return to normality'

The Polish prime minister does not appear overly concerned with the political situation. He replies, quite calmly, that all of these events have occurred so that 'normality' may be restored to Poland. Arresting people without motive, calling journalists 'vultures' and citizens who do not support the government's politics 'vicious academics': these are things he considers quite normal.

In the eyes of Europe, Poland is a country that appears more peculiar by the day. It is, however, difficult to agree with the view of the international press which states that democracy is in danger in Poland. We are still able to rely on independent tribunals, which show no hesitation in ruling against what the public prosecutor has dictated, and also on a media in which everyone can freely express themselves.

Translated from Co się dzieje w państwie polskim?