Poland: Election Results Signal Imminent Generation Shift

No Budapest in Warsaw

On October 9, 2011, the results of Poland's parliamentiary election seemed to be a relief to many and a surprise to everybody. The current Prime Minister (PM) Donald Tusk has become the first Polish prime minister since 1989 to be elected to a consecutive term, but the real dark horse of the election is the anticlerical and libertarian Janusz Palikot, whose party has gained 10 percent of the votes.

With 39 percent of the votes, the centre-right Civic Platform won over the biggest opposition party, the national-conservative Law and Justice, which took 30 percent of the votes. Its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski commented on the election outcome, saying that “the day will come when Warsaw will be like Budapest,” referring to [pl] the current Hungarian conservative PM Victor Orban.

Donald Tusk is the first Polish leader to be re-elected in a consecutive term. Photo by Flickr user PlatformaRP (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Donald Tusk is the first Polish leader to be re-elected in a consecutive term. Photo by Flickr user PlatformaRP (CC BY-ND 2.0)

One election, two winners

The biggest surprise, however, was the result of the party “Ruch Palikota” (“Palikot's Movement”), which became the third power in the parliament, even though it was registered only four months ago by a philisophy graduate and entrepreneur Janusz Palikot. In his time as a member of the Civic Platform, Palikot was branded as a political clown and provocateur. His eccentric ways once showed during the infamous press conference, at which he waved a toy gun and a vibrator [pl] in order to draw attention to the case of a young woman who had been sexually abused at a police station. Another time, he brought a bleeding pig's head [pl] to a TV show, calling it a “mafia gift.”

Now, just a few years later, Palikot is not afraid to campaign for sensitive subjects, such as a secular state, civil unions for gay men and lesbians, legalisation of abortion and a more liberal drug policy. With this programme [pdf, pl], he has won the hearts of many young people across the country, especially those who felt that their demands weren't represented by any other party on the political scene.

Twitter user @szwalowski commented [pl] on October 9:

The voice of Palikot is an expression of the same emotions that make people in Madrid or Tel Aviv go to the streets #wyborcza | Not really #wybory [election]

The same day another Twitter user @pawelbielecki tried to find [pl] the reason for Palikot's succes somewhere else:

Was it a good PR or maybe the voters’ disgust with the Polish political scene that translated into such a good result for Palikot's Movement #wybory

Mateusz Drulis wrote [pl] on the Movement's Facebook wall:

I hope that I will live till these beautiful times when politicians understand that it's no longer about ignoring just one man, Janusz Palikot, but also 1.5 million young Poles who support him and his postulates.

A billboard from the press kit on the movement

A billboard from the press kit on the movement

Young people consider Palikot much more honest than other politicians and feel attracted to his anticlerical courage. A phrase by a TV journalist about the Generation JPII (Pope John Paul II) facing the Generation JP (Janusz Palikot) seemed to hit the point [pl].

Palikot’s party has also won [pl] in the primary election organized among high school students. Nearly 36 percent of the future voters were in favour of his party. Dave Schiemann commented [pl] on it on the Facebook wall of Palikot’s movement on October 14:

I saw this coming. At a certain age, people already have their opinions formed and they won't change it. In addition, they are not that open for other things as young people are. Palikot's Movement is the party of the future, these 10% of support is just a beginning! Or at least I hope so :)

Blogger Nocri considers [pl] Palikot’s success as a sign of a clear need for change in the Polish society:

He became a new and interesting figure on the Polish political scene. The last election proved that there was a need for changes in the political system that has been manipulating us for 20 years already. He [Palikot] became a symbol of embarassment but also of courageous decisions. He became a symbol among young people – it's him who has won most of the votes among the electorate that all the parties were fighting for.

On Twitter on Oct. 9, @pawel_meteo noted [pl] that Palikot's success was a result of a populist game, comparing the politician and his postulate to legalize marijuana to another populist from the past, Andrzej Lepper.

Civil rights activists move into Parliament

Thanks to Palikot's success, the first transsexual MP Anna Grodzka will enter the parliament, as well the first openly homosexual politician Robert Biedron and a feminist activist Wanda Nowicka [pl]. Just before the election day, the future MP Anna Grodzka stressed [pl] on her blog how much the campaign has changed her life:

During this campaign and during last years I've received so much good from people, I've received so much help and support from many friends that I haven't experienced in all my life. We fight together for a modern and just Poland. For Poland of different but equal people, for our good place on earth.

Tomasz Terlikowski, a Polish conservative journalist and a Catholic activist, reacted on his portal in a post [pl] titled “We go to war”:

[…] The Poles have made the third political power in Poland […] a man whose only merits are shameless attacks against the church, and his people include a guy who calls himself a woman, a woman who made a career on preaching about killing children and a man whose only merit is that he likes other men.

Whatever one may say about Poland's new politial reality, one thing is certain – the election has revealed a profound change that the Polish society has undergone in the past years. A change that all the parties except for Palikot's Movement have ignored. Will Palikot fight for the postulates that have brought him this impressive approval from the young Poles – or will he dissapoint his voters?

Tomek Alfik Frontczak expressed [pl] his hope with a happy post on the Movement's Facebook wall on October 10:

Thank you, Janusz! It's super great! Poland finally has a chance for a modern country, I sincerely thank you. I hope you won't dissapoint these Poles who supported your movement. I don't find words to describe our happiness. Take care and good luck!!!


  • […] Even in urbane Warsaw, among middle-class cosmopolitan Poles (the people I was meeting), you get a range of reactions. Everyone will tell you that Palikot’s a clever guy and point out how he made a lot of money as an entrepreneur. Some will say that he saw an opening between the liberal Civic Platform (which seems nowadays to excite few people, but also manages not to offend many) and the conservative Law and Justice (which, with its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski , scares off a large segment of voters). He picked up on the frustration of younger people, who didn’t want to vote for either of the two big parties, but I got the feeling that this was something more than a protest vote against the current political elite. Many of his supporters really do believe that the Catholic Church retains too strong an influence across Polish society. (To get a feel for the passion Palikot evoked among his supporters, see this Global Voices post). […]

  • What people are ignoring when talking about Palikot (who you rightly figure is taking from younger voters) is that there is still a conservative majority in parliament. Civic Platform is no social reformer and Law and Justice of course are not either. It will take a good few molre years before Poland joins the European mainstream of ‘liberal’ politics.

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