Poland's largest opposition party Law and Justice (PiS) has proven itself so inept in recent years that although a TNS Polska survey taken last month revealed that 70 percent of Poles think the Civic Platform (PO)-led government is doing a bad job, if elections were held today, the ruling party would most likely win.
Poles simply don't view the arch-conservative PiS and its aggressive leader Jaros³aw Kaczyński as a viable alternative to the smooth-talking Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his eclectic party.
Mr Kaczyński is well aware of this.
That's why he used the word “alternative” repeatedly when presenting his party's ideas for giving the Polish economy a kick-start last weekend. This is something we have not seen from PiS for some time now: ideas. Some of their proposals are sensible, some are silly, but all are worth debating.
Taxes and jobs
For example, Mr Kaczyński has said he wants to simplify the Polish tax code and reduce the room for interpretation by tax officials. That is a great idea in principle but it remains unclear exactly how the unified PIT and CIT tax code that the PiS leader proposes would work.
Jaros³aw Kaczyński also wants to introduce a turnover tax for hypermarkets, which often show losses on their books and thus pay no taxes at all, as well as for banks. An advantage of the turnover tax is its simplicity but a disadvantage is the cumulative taxation that occurs as goods move through the successive stages of production and distribution.
A number of countries known for their
business-friendly policies, such as the Netherlands and Ireland, have
nevertheless employed a turnover tax in some form, meaning it is at
least worth considering.
Additionally, PiS has proposed a 10-year plan which would create 1.2 million jobs, mostly in small towns with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants.
Mr Kaczyński has proposed tax exemptions, scholarships and subsidies as the means of achieving this. He also said the government could save money by scrapping numerous training programs (often EU-funded), many of which have yielded few tangible results.
Ceasing funding for training programs that bear little fruit is a good idea but no Polish government plan to “create” jobs will work if the global economy goes into another recession. It is dishonest to deceive people that the reality is otherwise.
And as Prime Minister Donald Tusk rightly pointed out, between 2008 and 2011, in the middle of the crisis, Poland created 800,000 jobs and thus Mr Kaczyński's 120,000 jobs-a-year plan would be less effective.
Leave pension reform alone
Jaros³aw Kaczyński also proposes undoing the pension reform which the government enacted this year, when it increased the retirement age to 67 for both men and women rather then the 65 and 60 year thresholds which had been in place before.
PiS now says they want to reverse this reform, go back to the previous retirement ages and give people the choice of working longer. That is a bad idea. The PM didn't decide to raise the retirement age out of mere sadism but because all the data we have shows that the state simply cannot afford to pay for the system as it is now. More people need to be working in order to pay for those who don't, which brings us to the demographic problem.
The birth-rate in Poland is 1.3 per woman, much too small to provide a big enough work force in the future. PiS now proposes the government give z³.300 vouchers to poor families that they can use to send their children to pre-school and kindergarten. He also proposes bigger tax rebates for families with more than one child.
That's all very well, but nobody decides to have a kid because it's going to get them a big tax-rebate. There are many cultural and socio-economic problems that weigh down on Poland's birth-rate and a small bribe isn't going to change things.
PiS also proposes liquidating the National Health Fund and putting the health minister back in charge of distributing funds to hospitals. It is also unclear why that would improve things.
Crisis, we need you
Of course, PiS is hoping for the coming crisis to dent the ruling party's popularity even further. For them, as for the Republicans in the US, the worse the economy, the better for them, politically.
All indicators indeed suggest that the Polish economy is going to slow down significantly in the coming months. Firms are already announcing massive lay-offs. And so Poland's unemployment rate, already over 12 percent, will likely inch northwards. All this will certainly worsen people's moods. The question is, who will they blame for their woes.
Will they believe Mr Kaczyński, who is saying that Donald Tusk could do more to protect the economy and thus if things go worse it will be his fault. Or will they believe Mr Tusk who says it is external factors that no Polish PM has influence over which are causing the problem. Also, will Poles be convinced that PiS, which is perceived as being weak in economic matters, can turn things around.
The PiS leader knows only a catastrophe
of some sort can bring him to power. But a PiS talking economics is
always better for the country than a PiS talking Smolensk conspiracy
theories and calling Poland a German-Russian condominium.