The three parallel cabinets of Poland (20-26 November 2023)
By some accounts, in the recent week Poland has had three governments. The Government 1, led by Mateusz Morawiecki, is the still acting cabinet. The Government 2, also led by Mateusz Morawiecki as prime minister-designate, will be presented to the parliament within the next two weeks. And then there is Government 3, led by Donald Tusk, who can only be designated after Government 2 would fail to receive confirmation.
The Law and Justice minister of education in the Government 1, Przemysław Czarnek, estimated Mateusz Morawiecki chances for receiving a vote of confidence at 10%. The prime minister himself seemed to agree with that estimation, talking after a meeting with Confederacy, the party that was not long ago thought of as a possible Law and Justice ally but which now distances itself from the prospect of supporting Government 2.
Promoting his idea of “the coalition of the Polish issues”, Mateusz Morawicki has been struggling to find politicians willing to join his new cabinet. Many of the lame-duck Government 1 members, such as the current minister of defence, Mariusz Błaszczak, do not plan to repeat their roles, claiming instead that the new cabinet will not consist of the front-bench politicians. Eventually, Morawiecki will present his council of ministers (as it is officially called in Poland) at a meeting with the president on Monday, 27 November. The meeting will be the Government 2 swearing-in ceremony. From that moment, the prime minister-designate becomes an acting prime minister and has 14 days to receive the vote of confidence from the parliament.
But there is another, parallel Government 3 in the works. Its presumed leader, Donald Tusk, indicated his readiness, tweeting: “December 13 is the Day of Saint Lucia. Festival of sun and light. A nice date to start. Some people celebrate it by sleeping until noon”. The tweet could be read as a triple entendre. Assuming that Mateusz Morawiecki’s attempt will fail, 13 December is the most probable day for the parliament to designate Tusk as the majority candidate for prime minister. But it is also an anniversary of the establishment of martial law by the Communists in 1981, a controversial decision that, according to some, prevented the Soviets from invading Poland, or, according to others, crushed the Solidarity movement and delayed the democratic transformation for almost a decade.
And then there is “some people (…) sleeping until noon” remark which directly references a well-known story about Jarosław Kaczyński who, on 13 December 1981, was not among the anti-communist opposition activists who were arrested by the authorities. Instead, Kaczyński woke up late on that day, unaware of the events. The story, told by Kaczyński himself in his 2016 book, is used by his adversaries to point out that his role in the democratic opposition was marginal. In contrast, his twin brother Lech Kaczyński, who went on to become the president of Poland in 2005-2010, and was a member and advisor to the Solidarity movement, was detained and held in an internment camp for 10 months.
But Tusk has little time for sarcastic tweets as the internal debates among the coalition members have not yet been settled. One particular point of contention has been the ministry of education and science, held for the last few years by the aforementioned Przemysław Czarnek, perceived by his critics as a right-wing ideologue. After the election the Left attempted to get the ministry to which the Third Way and Civic Coalition opposed, fearing that the ideological reversal would go too far. In the end it seems the ministry will be divided into two separate departments. The education ministry will be given to Civic Coalition’s Barbara Nowacka and the ministry of science and higher education to the Left’s member.
Even though the Tusk government is still weeks away, some of the rumoured decisions have already been deemed controversial. One of the more discussed moves would be to lower the taxes for IT specialists. Civic Coalition politicians argue it is necessary to support the development of digital technology sector and prevent the tech workers from migrating to other countries. Yet the critics point out that IT workers are among the highest earners and that the move alone will not lead to economic or social innovations.
For the time being Poland remains in a prolonged state of in-between and the quantity of its actual and hypothetical governments has yet to be translated into some recognisable quality. In the meantime, neither Morawiecki nor Tusk have reasons for satisfaction. According to a recent poll, the outgoing government has approval of 32% of the respondents, with 44% being against it. In another poll, the support for Civic Coalition dropped to 26.7% from more than 30% the party received in the election.
The views and perspectives expressed in this post are solely those of the author.