Nations in Transit 2009 - Poland

  • Author: Andrzej Krajewski
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    30 June 2009

by Andrzej Krajewski

Capital: Warsaw
Population: 38.1 million
GNI/capita: US$15,500

The data above was provided by The World Bank, World Bank Indicators 2009.

Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores

Electoral Process1.
Civil Society1.
Independent Media1.501.501.501.751.751.501.752.252.252.00
National Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a2.502.753.253.503.25
Local Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a2.
Judicial Framework and Independence1.501.501.501.501.502.
Democracy Score1.581.581.631.751.752.002.142.362.392.25

* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary

In 2008, the center right party, Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO) and its government coalition marked its first year in power with significantly fewer political ups and downs than the two previous years under the rule of the Kaczynski twins, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and President Lech Kaczynski. Current Prime Minister, Donald Tusk attempted to bring an end to the internal lustration hunt and reach new conciliatory relations with Poland's neighbors. Highlighting the competition within the executive, President Lech Kaczynski responded by using his veto power, especially at the conclusion of the year, to block reforms to health care and public media, as well as several other bills.

In the last two months of 2008 Poland began to feel the burden of the economic crisis, which led to a reduction in the predicted GDP growth in 2009 and cuts in spending across the board, and growth of the budget deficit. At the end of the new ruling coalition's first full year in power, the future did not seem as bright as it did the previous year, but was not as bleak as some of Poland's neighbors.

National Democratic Governance. 2008 was a smooth ride following the political roller coaster of the two previous years with Kaczynski twins sharing the executive power. In October 2007, the Law and Justice party democratically relinquished power after losing the early elections. The new PO government appeared more transparent and less bureaucratic as it emphasized decentralization, trust in public life and a focus on the future. In 2008, the President showed his support for the opposition, especially the party of his brother, and orchestrated constitutional clashes with the government. Owing to PO's restraint in using state power, and the introducing of necessary reforms, Poland's national democratic governance rating improves from 3.50 to 3.25.

Electoral Process. With no nationwide elections in 2008 Poland remained a stable democracy, solving its political problems in 2007 with parliamentary elections scheduled two years in advance by a vote that garnered support from the ruling party and opposition. The electoral law for European parliament elections, scheduled in June 2009, will allow proxy vote. As no elections were held in 2008 Poland's rating for electoral process holds steady at 2.00.

Civil Society. NGOs were less visible than in previous years, when the hostile attitude of the government made them more combative. Gay pride marches and cultural events took place without interruption, and new watchdog and public interest groups were formed. Ecologist groups were active during the December 2008, Poznan World Ecology Forum. Due to the decline in the vibrancy of the civil society and slight reductions of the state's funding of NGOs caused by the economic crisis Poland's civil society ratings worsens from 1.25 to 1.50.

Independent Media. The right to freedom of speech is observed in Poland, and the government, installed in November 2007, refrained from applying pressure to the media. The government announced plans to depoliticize the public media, however failed to do so through legislation as a result of Presidential veto. Nevertheless, the media appeared less polarized in 2008. Due to this and government efforts to develop media neutrality Poland's independent media rating improves from 2.25 to 2.00.

Local Democratic Governance. Local governments put in place in 2006 have made use of European Union (EU) funds to implement a number of revitalization and social programs co-financed by the central government. With a general calm in national governance, and a new emphasis on decentralization, cooperation between local self-government, local governments and national structures improved. Owing to the enhanced cooperation of local politicians, the rating for local democratic governance improves from 2.25 to 2.00.

Judicial Framework and Independence. Less stringent criminal law and more effective courts, along with a government pledge to divide the positions of Prosecutor General and Minister of Justice in 2010 improves Poland's rating for judicial framework and independence from 2.50 to 2.25.

Corruption. The perseverance in the fight against corruption in football, restraint in changing the head of the Central Anticorruption Bureau, and more transparency in public life improves Poland's corruption rating from 3.00 to 2.75.

Outlook for 2009. The economic crises will have a decisive influence on the political situation of Poland as well as the fate of other countries in the region; the troubled Ukraine and Russian economies may contribute negatively to internal problems. Despite the economic hardships, support for the government was high at the end of 2008, but may drop as unemployment rises following the slowdown of Polish exports to Western European markets. European Parliament elections in June will serve as a midyear assessment of national governance, however, low turn out may lead to unbalanced results.

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