Donald Tusk's neoliberal Civic Platform won the Polish parliamentary elections last Sunday comprehensively defeating the right-wing populist Law and Justice party of prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski – whose twin brother is the country's president.
The Civic Platform was seen as the party most likely to beat Kaczynski, whose use of the various policing agencies against his political opponents finally turned people against him.
Until a couple of weeks before the elections it looked as though the Law and Justice party would win easily. But then Kaczynski badly lost a debate with Tusk.
A few days before polling a Civic Platform MP was arrested on corruption charges and a video of her taking a plastic bag full of money was shown on television.
This backfired on the ruling party, when it turned out that a special police agent had been having a relationship with her for a year and encouraged her to take the bribe.
The fact that the election was so swayed by one or two incidents in the campaign shows that the parties differ in style rather than substance.
The Civic Platform is known as the most neoliberal party, but most people were not voting for privatisation and cuts. Two years ago the party lost both the presidential and parliamentary elections because Tusk was more honest about his politics.
During the current election the Civic Platform's image was softened with more talk about the poor and much less about privatisation.
Kaczynski's Law and Justice party has been governing for two years, so it was easy to show that in government it was not as 'social' as it had promised before coming to power. It was never going to come close to building its promised three million new homes in eight years.
According to one magazine the 16 zloty billionaires in Poland in 2006 had grown to 25 by 2007. The wealth of the richest 100 Poles increased by 53.7 percent in that one year.
For ordinary people things haven't been so rosy. Unemployment is falling, but is still very high at around 12 percent. Some two million people are estimated to have gone abroad to look for work – mainly to Ireland and Britain.
Kaczynski was also hit by the fact that all parties except his call for the withdrawal of Poland's 1,000 troops from Iraq. It remains to be seen whether the new government will make good on this promise – already there is talk of the need to find out what commitments (even informal ones) have been made to the US.
A misnamed bloc called the Left and Democrats (LiD) also contested the election. This was an alliance of the ex-communist Social Democrats – who are as neoliberal as New Labour – with a liberal party led by well known former Solidarity leaders. LiD polled only 13 percent – roughly the same as the Social Democrats did two years ago. The party's chances of becoming a major player were weakened when its leader, former president Aleksander Kwasniewski, was twice shown drunk while speaking at big meetings.
The Farmers' Self Defence party and the extreme right League of Polish Families (LPR) are both out of parliament, failing even to get 2 percent of the vote each. They were damaged by being in coalition with Law and Justice. Kaczynski also courted the far right media which undercut LPR's support.
Despite the neoliberal consensus in parliament, there have recently been some good examples of resistance to neoliberal policies.
Though protesting nurses were roughed up by police this summer, they forced the prime minister to negotiate with their leaders. Kaczynski had previously said they were criminals.
Earlier the government backed down just before the start of a railway workers strike over the right to early retirement.
The occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are ever more unpopular and the US anti-missile 'shield' due to be located in Poland is opposed by a majority of the population.
This opposition needs a political expression. In the elections the Polish Labour Party (PPP) was the only party genuinely campaigning against neoliberalism and war. It got 1 percent of the poll (just over 160,000 votes) – not much, but 76 percent more than last time.
The PPP is based on one trade union and led by the union's leader. The support of the union meant it was strong enough to stand in all constituencies. But this is also its weakness – it is too narrow an alternative.
It needs to jointly form a broader alliance with other trade union, anti-war, green, left-wing and community organisations and activists.