Poland elects Tusk for historic second term
by Daniel Mason
Poland re-elected Prime Minister Donald Tusk's centre-right Civic Platform yesterday, the first time a ruling party has won a second consecutive term in office since the fall of communism 22 years ago.
With turnout low at 47.7 per cent, near-complete results showed that Civic Platform won almost 40 per cent of votes cast, well ahead of former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice party on about 30 per cent.
A new party supporting gay rights and the legalisation of some drugs, the Palikot Movement, came third with 10 per cent. Its founder, Janusz Palikot, has campaigned against the dominance of the Catholic Church in Polish society. The Democratic Left Alliance lost support, falling from 13 per cent in 2007 to 7.7 per cent this year.
Tusk is likely to continue his coalition with the conservative farm-based Polish People's Party, which won 8.6 per cent of the vote. The result will be confirmed on Tuesday.
The prime minister appeared to have been rewarded for four years of economic growth. Poland was the only European Union member to avoid recession during the economic crisis, partly because of the strong performance of its construction industry as it prepares to host the European football championships in 2012.
Speaking to supporters, Tusk said: "It is the highest honour for me and for Civic Platform that we will be working for the next four years for all of you, regardless of who you voted for today. In the next four years we will work twice as hard." Poland got through 13 governments in the first 18 years after the fall of communism in 1989 but Tusk now looks set to govern for a full eight years.
Foreign minister Radek Sikorski said the government's "concept of European cooperation and modernisation of Poland is finding approval". Poland currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, and has been the biggest beneficiary of EU funding during the 2007-2013 budget period.
Government figures show that the EU aid added 1.5 per cent onto Poland's gross domestic product growth of 4.4 per cent each year between 2007 and 2010. Next year growth is expected to be 4 per cent, while the budget deficit stands at 5.6 per cent of GDP.
But in a report published today the credit rating agency Fitch said the new administration would have to "reassess the country's fiscal consolidation plan in light of slower growth" if it is to meet its target of a below 3 per cent deficit next year. Fitch expects growth of only 3 per cent next year.
"The slowdown in Poland and the wider euro area crisis could knock Poland off course unless further, more structural action is taken. Fitch has forecast a 0.1 per cent growth rate for the euro area as a whole during quarter four this year and quarter one 2012," the report said.
Tusk was congratulated by Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right European People's party in the European Parliament. "For the first time in Polish democratic history, the governing party has again won the parliamentary elections, thus being rewarded for its achievements. This is especially important in these difficult times of European economic crisis," he said.
Meanwhile, acknowledging defeat, Kaczynski said: "We respect the result of the election, but our task for the next four years will be to convince millions of Poles that changes are needed." He added: "I am deeply convinced that the day will come when we will succeed. Sooner or later we'll win because we are simply in the right."
Should voting be compulsory for young people?
First-time voters in the UK should be required to cast a ballot by law – and fined if they do not – in order to inculcate a lifetime habit of taking part in elections and boost overall turnout, writes Guy Lodge