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ANALYSIS-Junior Polish partner manoeuvres to stay in power

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 27 Sep 2011 15:38 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Junior coalition partner PSL eyes power broker role after poll

* Prefers renewed coalition with PM Tusk, other options not excluded

* Tusk may need coalition with left if PSL too weak

By Gabriela Baczynska

WARSAW, Sept 27 (Reuters) - The junior partner in Poland's ruling coalition, the Peasants' Party (PSL), may barely win enough votes to enter parliament at next month's election but could again play a pivotal role in the building of a new government.

Many economists accuse PSL, rooted in the rural areas and favouring active state involvement in the economy, of blocking market reforms promised by its bigger partner, Prime Minister Donald Tusk's centre-right Civic Platform (PO).

Tusk's party is tipped to win the October 9 poll and he has said he wants the coalition with PSL to continue, a view shared by the smaller party.

"I think it would be of value if the same coalition ruled for another term. That would send a clear signal of political stability to the world," the head of PSL's parliamentary faction, Stanislaw Zelichowski, told Reuters on Tuesday.

In a win-win situation for PSL, Poland's main opposition party, the conservative Law and Justice (PiS), which has been narrowing the gap with PO recently, has said it would also seek an alliance if it were to form the next government.

PSL has avoided any sharp criticism of PiS and is not ruling anything out to strengthen its negotiating position in the post-election horse-trading.

"Our current coalition has worked out well, but let's not prejudge events," PSL's number two politician, Eugeniusz Grzeszczak, told Reuters.

"The PSL cannot win a majority alone, so its tactic is to position itself so as to get the most from each side," said Aleksander Smolar, head of the Stefan Batory Foundation. "So they never distance themselves too much from any alternative."

A recent CBOS survey showed supporters of PiS and PSL, unlike Tusk's more market-minded PO, generally favour active government measures to tackle economic ills such as unemployment and are opposed to large-scale privatisation.

However, the supporters of PSL and PO tend to share more liberal views than the staunchly Catholic PiS on social issues ranging from abortion to the role of the Catholic Church, the survey showed.

On relations with the European Union, PSL supporters came midway between those of PO who favour deeper ties and those of PiS, who want a looser union and stress the nation state.

"But there is a risk of PSL being swallowed by PiS if the two form a coalition because they have similar constituencies in the rural areas. PO is safer for PSL, because it never really tried to build a stronger showing in the countryside," said Pawel Swieboda, head of the demosEuropa think-tank in Warsaw.

FIGHT FOR VOTES

With the PO-PSL coalition most likely to continue after the election, the main challenge for the smaller partner is to win enough seats in parliament to co-sponsor a stable majority.

Otherwise, PO may be forced to seek an alliance with the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). This could cost PSL not only ministerial portfolios but also jobs for its members and associates in various state agencies.

Opinion polls suggest PSL, which has three ministers in the 19-strong cabinet, will win between 4 and 9 percent in the election. A party needs 5 percent to win parliamentary seats.

"We are always stronger in local elections than in the parliamentary ones, where we tend to win about a third less. In last year's local polls we had 16.3 percent, so some 11-12 percent seems realistic to me this time," Zelichowski said.

In the election campaign, PSL has been trying to project a more modern, even raunchy, image in an attempt to broaden its appeal beyond Poland's villages and country towns.

One TV advert shows a young couple sitting in a country meadow whispering and giggling. The man proposes to his sweetheart that they go behind the barn; they disappear and suggestive groans then break the rustic calm.

The camera pans to the couple who, it turns out, are having a game of tennis. The final caption reads: "Not everything is as it seems. Look at us from a fresh perspective!" (${esc.dollar}1 = 3.258 Polish Zlotys) (Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Gareth Jones and Robert Woodward)

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