Jarosław Gowin, a former justice minister and one of Poland’s best-known politicians, has quit the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party. Mr Gowin, a social conservative and economic liberal, had just lost the PO leadership election to Prime Minister Donald Tusk last month.
“I do not agree with the current policies of the government such as raising taxes and reaching into Poles’ pockets. Today I have reached the limits whereby loyalty to party is in conflict with loyalty to the Polish people,” said Mr Gowin when announcing his exit from PO.
Mr Gowin, who during the campagn for PO leader criticzied Mr Tusk for abandoning PO’s center-right, pro-business roots “in order to become a social democrat,” has continuously accused the PM of taking PO to the left. John Godson, Poland’s first black MP, who quit PO in late August to become an independent, has done likewise.
The governing coalition now has 232 votes in the 460-MP parliament. However, Jacek Żalek, another staunch conservative PO MP and an ally of Messrs Gowin and Godson, can also be expected to quit the party soon. Mr Żalek is currently on a three-month suspension from PO for breaking party discpline. He also believes PO has gone too far to the left.
Once he does leave, Mr Tusk will have a razor thin majority of one MP in parliament. However, there are four independent MPs who regularly support the government in key votes, so the PM shouldn’t be having too many sleepless nights.
The question is what will Mr Gowin, a popular figure, do next?
The former justice minister has said that within the next few days, he will embark on a tour of Poland where he will present his plans for the future and that in a month’s time he would announce “how and with whom” he intends to “change Poland.”
“We need to push back against the policy of increasing public debt, raising taxes and making entrepreneur’s lives difficult,” Mr Gowin said.
This is a message that will surely go down well with entrepreneurs in Poland. They have the right to feel neglected by PO, which wooed them during previous elections. Mr Tusk seems to have made a political calculation that irrespective of his actual policies, come the next elections Polish business will back him anyway.
In between a rock and a hard place
After all, what alternative do they have? PO’s biggest rival, Law and Justice (PiS), is openly hostile to businesspeople. Its leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has talked of weeding out businesspeople with any connection to Poland’s former communist leaders.
In an interview with Rzeczpospolita last week, Mr Kaczyński said the “negative selection practised during communism was unfortunately transferred to business and many former communists have found a safe hiding place in business.” The PiS leader also proposed punitive taxes against employers who don’t pay their workers well enough.
And so in Mr Tusk, Polish businesspeople have a prime minister who seems indifferent to them, while in Mr Kaczyński, they would have someone at the helm of government who believes their every dealing should be scrutinized closely. It’s a lose-lose situation, but with Mr Kaczyński, businesspeople risk losing more.
If Poland were the US, Mr Gowin could approach some sympathetic billionaire and ask him for the funds to establish an economically liberal party. Alas, in Poland political parties are financed mostly from the state budget (providing they get at least 3 percent of the vote in parliamentarty elections) and there are strict controls as to how much individuals can donate.
And so there will be no Polish equivalent of the Koch brothers coming to Mr Gowin’s rescue.
The former justice minister has already been invited by various minor conservative parties to join their ranks as a leader, but even with Mr Gowin among them, those parties’ main problem remains the same: money.
Mr Gowin’s other choice would be to join the ranks of PiS, where he would likely be given a high-profile role. But while he would fit right in when it comes to social values, he would have to radically modify his rhetoric on economics, as PiS is a nationalist outfit with socialist leanings.
It would be a pity for Mr Gowin to disappear from the scene altogether, as he is an intellectually impressive politician, a rarity in the mediocre world of Polish politics.
Personally, I think he’s done. But I hope I’m wrong.