For the past few years Polish politics has been dominated by two parties of the right: Citizens ' Platform (PO) and Law and Justice (PiS). Beyond this dominant dichotomy only two other parties are represented in parliament - the Peasant's Party (PSL) and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). This is a far cry from the 1990s when a plethora of political parties regularly appeared and dissapeared. Some have claimed that the division of Polish politics into two main competing blocs is a natural and healthy consolidation of the political scene - replicating that in the West. However, within the past few weeks divisions have emerged within both PO and PiS. Is this the beginning of a new recomposition of Polish politics?
The monopoly of politics between two parties of the right is an anomoly in Europe. In almost every other European country the political system is dominated by a party from the centre-left and centre-right. Polish politics is therefore closer to the situation in the USA, where there is no established social democratic party. However, at least some form of organised left - with social democratic leanings - exists within the American Democrats and this party can be classified as being liberal in its cultural outlook. In contrast Poland is dominated by two parties from the conservative right, with its more liberal version - PO - far removed from a party representing the liberal centre.
Now one may argue that this is reflective of Polish society and represents a population that is hostile to the left - especially one organisationally derived from the previous system. However, it should be remembered that the SLD were able to win political power just three years into the transition, that its candidate held the presidency for two terms (the legal limit) and that it gained over 40% of the vote to win power for a second time in 2001. It is not that the Polish electorate is averse to left parties - but that the experience of the second SLD government shattered the support for the left and thus allowed for the growth of the conservative right. The left is still paying a very high price for the policies carried out by the Leszek Miller government in 2001 - 2005.
In recent months there have been some signs that the dominance of PO and PiS in Poland is weakening. Firstly, the SLD's candidate - Grzegorz Napieralski - scored a relatively impressive 14% in the presidential elections signalling that the country's major centre-left party may at last be in a position to forge a new political fightback. Then in October, the prominent MP, Janusz Palikot, left PO and created a new political movement, designed to win the support of those opposed to the clericalisation of public life. Both of these events are significant but have so far had a limited impact. Although Palikot was able to mobilise impressive numbers for a rally in Warsaw he has as yet been unable to make any real political breakthrough and is scoring around 1% in the opinion polls. Likewise although Napieralski achieved success through underlining the independence of the left and challenging both PO and PiS, since the presidential elections he has not instigated any new political initiative that may help to unite and galvanise the wider left.
This month a new development has occurred after two leading MPs in PiS - Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska and Elżbieta Jakubiak - were expelled from the party. Kluzik-Rostowska was responsible for running Jarosław Kaczyński's presidential campaign - which was based upon appealing for consensus and building upon the sympathy felt towards Kaczyński after the Smoleńsk tragedy. The campaign was run along lines of avoiding conflict and under the slogan of 'Poland is the Most Important' (Polska Jest Najważniejsza). The new dissidents from PiS have adopted this name for their new association and they have been joined by a handful of other PiS MPs. They seem destined to create a new political party, with the aim of replacing PiS as the main opposition to PO.
The space created for such a political development has been created by PiS deepening its conservative and clerical political trajectory after the presidential elections. The original success of PiS was achieved through uniting a range of political currents - within a broadly conservative political framework - and blaiming corruption within the political elite for the country's socio-economic problems. The party's new strategy threatens to reduce its base of support and make it likely that it will become more politically confrontational and extreme as it tries to secure it core political support. Kaczyński has moved to isolate and remove those who challenge this political position, and behind him lie the new leadership in waiting - presently serving their time in Brussels - of Zbigniew Ziobro and Jacek Kurski.
The new association (Polska Jest Najważniejsza - NJW) wants to repeat the relative success of PiS's presidential election campaign. It realises that if it wants to win the support of the majority it has to move beyond issues of Smoleńsk and the building of monuments in Warsaw and appeal to a wider constituency. All this is true. However, beyond this the new kids on the block don't really seem to have much to say. On the one hand they bemoan the inability of the government to get to grips with rising public debt and criticise PO from a liberal economic position. On the other hand, they offer vague notions of how Poland should become a 'pro-family' country - banal in the extreme.
The problem for NJW is that they want to create a new conservative right-wing party in a country where there is already an overabundance of such political forces. It is rather like bringing coal to the miners. However, what these events do show is that the hegemony of the conservative right in Poland is weakening and that it could be challenged if a real political alternative were to be offered.