By far the most interesting result from yesterday's election is the strong showing of Palikot's Movement, a party that exists more or less solely as a result of the willpower and character of its founding member, Janusz Palikot.
Mr Palikot is a former Civic Platform (PO) MP, and a troublemaker. He is most (in)famously remembered for waving around a pistol and a dildo at a press conference a few years ago. After several controversial statements following the Smolensk disaster – including that the late President Lech Kaczyński may have been under the influence of alcohol during the ill-fated flight – Mr Palikot left PO to form his own party.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, Mr Palikot, a businessman from the eastern Polish city of Lublin who made his money in the vodka business, had become an afterthought. It was generally accepted that he would never be able to make it into parliament.
Youth turns to Palikot
Well, never say never in Polish politics. It turns out that Poland's disaffected youth – who formed a vital block of voters for PO in the 2007 elections – felt that Civic Platform hadn't made good on their promise to increase opportunity. Even youths who have managed to get jobs (youth unemployment makes up half of Poland's overall unemployment), are still struggling to obtain (much less pay) mortgages and support their families on an average salary of zł.3,600. They are rightly dissatisfied that for Master's degree-level graduates who speak one or two foreign languages, salaries still remain so low. Not liking any of the other alternatives, Poland's young voters cast their ballots for Mr Palikot.
Palikot's Movement (RP) speaks the language of Polish youths. The party favors legalizing soft drugs, abortion on demand and gay civil unions. Mr Palikot himself is vehemently anti-clerical, and his party proposes taxing the Catholic Church and eliminating its role in any state ceremonies, as well as doing away with religion lessons in school.
Interestingly, the party's economic policies are ones that the business community could get behind. RP proposes a flat-tax of 18 percent for corporate income tax, personal income tax and VAT. It wants to reduce government by liquidating the entire Ministry of Economy, and also proposes eliminating the Senate altogether, while reducing the number of members of the lower house of Parliament, the Sejm, from 460 to 360.
But exactly how much of any of this the party will be able to achieve is questionable. Mr Palikot's former colleagues in Civic Platform will be more than happy to shut him out of government, favoring to continue their coalition with the Polish People's Party. RP's members are either complete unknowns or have little experience on the political scene, or both – it's unclear whether they will be able to make any impact at all.
Legislatively, that is. Because as sure as they are to be shut out of law-making, any party run by Mr Palikot is certain to make a big media splash. The next four years will therefore be interesting from that point of view at least – be ready for some expert showmanship and plenty of controversial commentary.
The gamble paid off
Instead of marking his political death, Mr Palikot's resignation from Civic Platform may have catapulted his career forward. He gambled and won. But the proof in the pudding will not be whether he gains the spotlight (he will), but rather whether he can actually influence how Poland is governed.