In right-wing shift, new Polish parliament has no left wing

AP News
|
Posted: Oct 28, 2015 10:38 AM
In right-wing shift, new Polish parliament has no left wing

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The weekend election won by Poland's right-wing and anti-migrant Law and Justice party has also created Europe's most right-wing parliament — one without a single party that is left of center on social issues.

Gone are all of the former communists for the first time since communism fell 26 years ago, as well as a younger generation of politicians focused on women's rights, gay rights and the environment.

The 2011 election brought in a transsexual lawmaker, Anna Grodzka, who seemed a striking symbol of how the country was growing more open and progressive. Grodzka will be absent from the new parliament while some far-right nationalists will be among the newcomers.

In many ways, Poland has long been deeply conservative: abortion laws are strict, the country resists green energy and refugees are largely unwelcome. Still, there has been a growing acceptance among some for gay rights as Poland comes under greater Western influence.

The expulsion of the left results from several factors: a deeper social shift and the unpopularity of some of the left's leaders, including Leszek Miller, a former communist.

Left-wing parties took a combined 11 percent of the vote, split between two electoral groups which each fell short of a threshold for getting into the lower house of parliament, the Sejm.

"The Sejm without the left is like a left-handed person without a left hand," lamented Miller, the head of the Democratic Left Alliance. Miller was prime minister from 2001 to 2004, when the CIA operated a secret prison for terror suspects in Poland, something that has harmed his reputation. Still, most Poles reject him for representing an old ruling order that was often corrupt.

Many commentators, even some sympathetic to left-wing causes, said Miller and another left-wing leader, Janusz Palikot, deserved to be defeated for infighting and other failures.

"Haughtiness, mutual elimination through propaganda, a lack of ideology patched up with cynicism, Miller's playing on nostalgia for communist Poland, and Palikot's playing on his own ego, all this has washed away a conviction in Poles that the left wing is useful," columnist Marek Beylin wrote in Wednesday's Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

A new figure with a more positive image, Barbara Nowacka, headed the United Left coalition, but that move came too late to help, according to Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former left-wing president who called left's ejection from parliament "painful."

Younger Poles on the left not tied to the communists are also upset by the setback.

"It's a sad situation and these will be challenging times for the left," said Adam Ostolski, 37, a co-chairman of the Green Party.

"The left will have to organize change from outside of the parliament. And Law and Justice will antagonize many groups," Ostolski told The Associated Press. "I believe we will have a lot of social protests and discontent."

The left has a long history in Poland. Communists backed by Moscow ran the country for decades until 1989, but against the will of most. Communism's collapse brought a conservative counter-revolution: religious instruction returned to public schools, a cross was hung in parliament and abortion was largely banned. These things felt like political liberation to a largely Roman Catholic population that chafed under the official atheist ideology of communism.

The new governing party, Law and Justice, represents this conservative social vision, with its leaders and many of its followers Roman Catholic. It won 37.6 percent of the vote, which translates into 235 seats in the 460-seat lower house, a majority that will allow it to govern alone.

Despite its moral conservatism, Law and Justice is left-wing on economic causes, promising to help the disadvantaged and use the state to even out economic inequalities. The party promises to lower the retirement age, give cash bonuses for children and free medication to people over 75. It says it will fund these social programs with higher taxes on banks and big supermarkets, most of which are foreign-owned.

The lack of any left-wing parties in the lower house of parliament does not mean there are no people at all without a liberal view on some issues. The Civic Platform party, a centrist and pro-market party that governed for the last eight years, has taken some liberal positions, for instance by funding in vitro fertilization. It won 24.1 percent of the vote and will have 138 seats in the parliament, making it the largest opposition group but unable to stop legislation.

Modern, a new party led by economist Ryszard Petru, also supports civic partnerships for gay and straight couples, though it is mainly focused on economic issues. It gets 28 seats.

Also, one left-wing politician was elected to the less powerful 100-seat Senate.

_____

Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this report.