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'Law and Justice' Creeps Up as Church-State Issues Predominate

Many Polish polls report that the race between ruling Civic Platform and contending Law and Justice has narrowed
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 10/4/2011, 1:46 AM

Since 1989, the year the Poland was liberated from communism, no party has won back-to-back elections.

This year was expected to be different. with Donald Tusk's Civic Platform Party comfortably ahead by about 12% last month of the Law and Justice Party --the party it ousted in the last elections. Now many of the polls show that the race has narrowed, with Law and Justice creeping to within 1% of Civic Platform and threatening to replicate its 2005 come-from-behind victory.

Both parties are Catholic. Roman Catholicism is strongly entrenched in Polish national history. Catholicism served as a national rallying point against predominantly Protestant Germany to the West and the Orthodox Russians to the East.

Under communist rule, the Catholic Church provided a vehicle to express opposition to the regime. This was highlighted when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the primate of Krakow, became Pope John Paul II.

Civic Platform is aligned with the moderate Christian Democratic parties of Western Europe. It is a member of the European Peoples Party, the EPP, in the European Parliament.

Law and Justice represents Poland's more traditional Catholicism. In its campaign ads, Civic Platform has attempted to tie Law and Justice to religious extremism. Civic Platform also claims that a return to power by Law and Justice would sour relations with Poland's partners in the European Union, something that could cost the Polish economy $92 billion.

If Civic Platform is trying to tie Law and Justice to Catholic extremism, Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski returns the compliment by speaking of a Civic Platform-Palikot Party coalition.

Janusz Palikot, who made a fortune in the vodka industry, broke away from Civic Platform and is campaigning on an anti-clerical platform. He wants to liberalize Poland's abortion law, provide free access to contraception and legalize gay marriage.

The polls give the Palikot party over 7%, enough to cross Poland's 5% electoral threshold. The apparent success of the party has mobilized the church to take an active role in the campaign. Faithful Catholics are being implored to judge candidates in terms of their adherence to "the teachings of the Bible." Without mentioning Palikot one bishop announced "We don't have the right to elect someone who supports legalizing gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia. It's forbidden!,"

Law and Justice has a problem in that it cannot merely eke out a narrow victory over Civic Platform. It lacks prospective coalition partners. Polish President  Bronislaw Komorowski has already announced that he will give the mandate to form a government to the party most capable of doing so, rather than to the party that received the most seats in the election.

Civic Platform also has problems. Its victory margin, if it does emerge the victor, will have contracted. If, as the polls now say, the Palikot  party gets in, then Civic Platform will have to deal with a prima donna over religious issues that could split the country.

Alternatively Civic Platform may be forced into a coalition with the successors to the Polish Communist Party. In the latter case, the government will forfeit much of its freedom of action on economic policy, including measures to balance the budget and reduce the deficit to 3% of the GDP.