After
surviving in a minority for more than six months, Poland’s government
finally has a majority in parliament, and it’s an interesting lesson in
coalition-building.

Crikey readers may remember the background:
in parliamentary elections last September, the incumbent social
democrats were heavily defeated, as incumbents usually are in eastern
Europe. The two centre-right parties, Law and Justice (basically
conservatives) and Civic Platform (more like liberals), won a large
majority between them.

Everyone expected that they would form a
coalition, but negotiations to do so eventually broke down (apparently
over questions of personality) and the conservatives, who had won the
most votes, decided to go it alone. The social democrats had lost so
badly that even if the liberals aligned with them (as has happened in a
number of similar countries), they still would not have a majority. The
balance of power was held by three smaller parties.

Now the
conservatives have put together a coalition with two of those other
parties: Self-Defence, which is left-wing populist, and the League of
Polish Families, which is right-wing populist. The combination is raising eyebrows
across Europe. Self-Defence leader Andrzej Lepper, for example, former
pig farmer and now a deputy prime minister, has previously praised
Hitler’s economic policies and called for closer relations with Russia.
The League of Polish Families is not only anti-European but
anti-Semitic as well.

But Poles seem to be willing to give the
new government a try. After all, Law and Justice did win the elections,
and there is something to be said for the view that bringing the
extremists within the tent is less dangerous than leaving their
grievances to fester outside. And since the mainstream parties still
have a clear majority between them, they may be able to work together
if this combination is tried and fails. But it’s an instructive example
of what can happen when liberals and conservatives fall out.

Peter Fray

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