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Scandal And Shake-Up Ahead of Elections

Secret-tape affair described as “political earthquake”

WARSAW, POLAND –“We have been governing for nearly eight years and a number of errors have accumulated,” Polish Prime minister Ewa Kopacz told a convention of her Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska=PO) party recently. “Some of us have failed. I admit it, we admit it and apologize. We apologize and humbly accept every expression of disappointment and criticism.”

The beleaguered Kopacz’s breast-beating was a clear attempt to recoup some of the losses, incurred by her scandal-plagued government in the run-up to October’s general election. Shocked by the unexpected defeat of President Bronisław Komorowski at the polls in May, her cabinet was further battered when the testimony of an investigation into an eavesdropping scandal appeared on Facebook.

Last year, news magazine Wprost began serializing the secretly recorded conversations of top government officials. Not knowing they were being recorded, over wine and vodka-laced gourmet dinners in Warsaw restaurants, the officials freely told off-color jokes and revealed private views they would never have expressed in public. In one recording, then Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski called Polish-US relations “worthless” and said they amounted to Poland giving America oral sex.

Zbigniew Stonoga, a little-known businessman form Śląsk (Sielsia), gained access to 15 volumes of documents from the tape-scandal investigation and began publishing them on Facebook. Many ordinary Internet users showered his revelations with “likes” and viewed him as the “the Polish Snowden”, the little guy brave enough to stand up to the ruling establishment. But the prime minister flew into a panic and ordered a shake-up in which nearly a dozen cabinet members and other top officials lost their jobs.

The defeat in May of the PO-backed presidential incumbent Bronisław Komorowski’s and tape-scandal issues have cut into the electorate of the Kopacz’s ruling party and its tiny Peasant Party ally – a major concern in an election year. Surveys have shown the PO in second place trailing behind the main opposition party, the conservative Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość=PiS) which had backed Poland’s new president Andrzej Duda. Some polls have shown PO coming third behind the middle-aged rock musician Paweł Kukiz, the dark horse of the presidential campaign.

Voters remember PO’s other scandals, delayed projects and unkept promises such as the huge growth of red tape despite pledges to reduce bureaucracy. And many Poles look forward to a change, something new after eight years of seeing the same old faces and listening to their familiar but often empty rhetoric.

PiS names Beata Szydlo as candidate for prime minister

The election campaign is now in full swing, and at the very start PiS optimistically named Beata Szydło as its candidate for prime minister. The 52-year-old ethnographer, specializing in culture and museum management, is touring the country in her “Szydłobus” in a bid to win public favor.

Some surveys have shown that only PiS, PO and the Kukiz group will clear the 5% threshold needed to win parliamentary seats. Other polls have indicated 5% or slightly higher support for the new pro-capitalist Nowoczesność.PL (Modernity.PL) party of economist Ryszard Petru and the tired, old post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).. If PiS wins the election,the election and teams up with Kukiz, the two parties have the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution and ratify international agreements. The Petru grouping would be the pro-market PO’s logical ally. But we won’t know for sure unitl the voters’ final verdict is announced in October.

By Robert Strybel
Warsaw Correspondent

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