A big change in Polish politics - but is it the end of the Kaczynski era?

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, photo: CTK

Last weekend's snap parliamentary election in Poland has brought about far-reaching changes in the country's political scene. "Out" is the conservative government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose Law and Justice Party suffered a crushing defeat. "In" is the liberal Civic Platform. But, as you will hear in this report from Polish Radio's Michal Kubicki, this does not mark the end of the Kaczynski era in Polish politics.

Donald Tusk, photo: CTK
Two years ago Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk lost both the parliamentary and presidential elections. Until the final stage of this election campaign many people predicted a speedy end to his political career. Now 50 years-old Tusk will most probably be Poland's next prime minister. He described election-day last Sunday as the happiest day of his life, and thanked all those who cast their votes.

"We know full well that you imposed a great duty on us, first of all a duty to bring about reconciliation among Poles. I'd like to thank also those who voted for our opponents. We'll do our best to make Poland a good place to live for you too.."

During the election campaign, Tusk spoke of cutting red tape and lowering taxes, promising an 'economic miracle, modeled on Ireland'. Outgoing prime- minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski referred to this in his address after the announcement of the election results.

"I wish Donald Tusk success and I congratulate him on his victory. But we shall be looking very closely whether his election promises are being fulfilled."

Voter turnout of over 54 percent was the highest since the collapse of communism in 1989. The higher turnout was particularly evident among young voters, a fact which according to political analyst Robert Strybel, contributed tangibly to the success of the Civic Platform.

"For the first time, so many young people voted. In 2005 they said they were not interested in politics and they didn't vote. This time they did and since Tusk's party has adopted a kind of pro-youth position this is what happened."

In Warsaw, thanks to these young voters the Civic Platform scored a landslide victory

"I'm really happy. I hope something will change now. I think the economy will be better."

"We're expecting they will focus on real changes."

"The advantage of the liberals in the Parliament is so big that over the next few years it's possible to make crucial changes in the economy and infrastructure. It's the most important thing now."

What sort of government can we expect from the Civic Platform? According to Marek Magierowski of the Rzeczpospolita daily, changes will be particularly evident in the domestic policies.

"They would be more focused on the free market, on fighting bureaucracy, on financial reform and on our road to the euro."

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, photo: CTK
Most foreign analysts note that Europe gasped with relief after the defeat of the Kaczynski government. The victorious Civic Platform says it will patch up Poland's relations with Europe, but many analysts here do not anticipate much change on the foreign policy front. Marek Magierowski again.

"I think the Civic Platform realizes that it's very hard to return from the road the Law and Justice Party had chosen two years ago. The Civic Platform would be defending our interests in the European Union, maybe it's not as nationalistic a party as Law and Justice but I think the German government should not be expecting any dramatic change in the Polish foreign policy."

Despite its victory, the Civic Platform is twenty two parliamentary seats short of being able to form a majority government. A coalition with the Polish Peasant Party, the smallest of the four parties in the parliament, is the most probable scenario. President Lech Kaczynski, the brother of the outgoing prime minister, will be a key element in the parliamentary puzzle and the shape of his 'cohabitation' with a future coalition will be crucial for Poland's political stability. With Jaroslaw Kaczynski heading the biggest opposition party and his brother in the presidential palace for another three years, this is not the end of the Kaczynski era.