Poland in political turmoil

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Poland's political scene never seems to have been in greater disarray than it is today - rocked by scandals and bitter disputes between left and right. All this is compounded by attacks by Catholic right wing groupings which argue that the historic round table debate of 1989, which ended communism in Poland, was just a farce during which the communists and Solidarity activists divided influence between them.

Lech Walesa, free Poland's first president until 1995 and before that the charismatic leader of the Solidarity trade union, was shouted and whistled at when he visited the northern city of Gizycko these days. The protests were launched by the League of Polish Families and All-Poland Youths, whose representatives argue that Walesa was a communist era secret police agent. Walesa has had his name cleared but the attacks have gained momentum now that Poland is heading for the general election. The pre-election fight is also mirrored in the proceedings of a parliamentary commission investigating the scandal with the privatization of Poland's biggest company - the Orlen oil giant. One of its victims is President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

The most popular leftist politician, Kwasniewski created uproar with his refusal to testify before the commission and accusing it of unjustified fierce attacks on him and his family.

"Such politicized commissions, appointed by the parliament cannot assume the role of the judiciary. It would be absurd and a step towards undermining the rule of law in Poland".

After an anti-climatic start, the Orlen commission seems determined to nail down Kwasniewski. Judging by the headline on the front pages of popular weeklies - such as "The End Kwasniewski's World", it at least succeeded in crashing his ambitions.

The political scene is in disarray. With its four years in power marred by corruption scandals, the ruling Left has record low support, while the right side of the political scene is growing more and more vibrant. On May 5th, the parliament is to vote a motion on its dissolution and early spring elections. The ruling SLD favors the autumn timing of parliamentary election to postpone its imminent defeat. And with the support of independent MPs it seems certain to block the motion. All this creates a sense of instability, but political analysts believe that it has little impact on Poland's international image. Analyst Marek Matraszek.

"Polish political scene at the moment is in its greatest period of turmoil for over 10 years perhaps with parties collapsing, governments collapsing in corruption scandals and other activities. From what I can see actually this really isn't translating into any media attention in the foreign press. I haven't seen really a major article in any significant media outlet in Western Europe or the United States. This is very much into the Polish battle, but I think it's only conceivable that it may emerge at some state".

Professor Stanislaw Gomolka, senior lecturer at the London School of Economics, shares this view.

"My contacts with foreign investors and analysts of various financial institutions in the city of London and other places is: they intend to ignore quite a lot of political noise coming from Poland. They look above at key fundamentals of Polish economy and they are rather impressed by what they see".

Prime Minister Marek Belka, who is in favor of a snap poll in the spring, has threatened to resign rather than carry on till the end of the term, if the left blocks the measure. Indeed, a rule by a weak government formed by a party with little credibility could give a spur to populist parties.

This, says professor Gomolka, may worry foreign investors.

"Now at the moment financial community, both actually inside the country and abroad, assumes that this new government will be led by Mr. Rokita and that the Civic Platform will be the key component of the new coalition. If the result is different than that, if for instance Mr. Kaczynski becomes the prime minister and his party wins the election, I suppose this could be a highly destabilizing factor. But even like League of Polish Families and Self Defense party would win the election this could be a disaster."

Marek Matraszek believes that in the long-term - the political situation in Poland is unlikely to have a negative impact on Poland's foreign economic relations, business contacts and ability to attract investors.

"In the short term there may be a concern. I certainly receive a lot of phone calls from investors - the banking community especially, wondering what on earth is going on in Poland. However, in the long run, I think, there are two main facts, much more important than short term political instability, long term economic statistics, factors, long term growth. And that's very healthy in Poland. And, I think, secondly, after the new government comes into effect later on this year that will be another significant benefit for Poland. It will mean stability for one, and secondly, it will be a very reformist government: lower taxation, more encouragement for foreign investors, more privatizations. I think, in the medium to long term, things are looking pretty good for Poland."

The leadership of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance has failed to persuade Prime Minister Marek Belka to remain in office until the end of the parliamentary term in the autumn. But the premier's resignation in May could be rejected by President Aleksander Kwasniewski.