“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” The words of George S. Patton, a soldier for whom plans are important if the battle is to be won. And, as Brother Putin shows us, a man with a plan, however weak he may be, will always run rings around a man without one, however strong he may be. Where then does Poland, not the natural home of planning one might think, stand on the Patton test?
Many would argue that the first fifteen months of the Law and Justice (PiS) have certainly seen plans somewhat, metaphorically of course, violently executed but would question whether they were actually good plans. Others, who supported those plans, are no doubt rejoicing in their speedy execution and are looking forward to more of the same, as the government presses ahead with its plans to turn an unsatisfyingly, by their lights, average European country into something exceptional and more excitingly Polish. But what are those plans?
Well, no doubt we will find out soon enough. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło announced on Tuesday that she will review the work of her government with ministers to outline their plans for this year. She told a press conference that ministers will have an opportunity to sum up their achievements thus far, and will “present proposals for new tasks that will be implemented by the government.” Not for her, then, the approach of the Duke of Wellington who after his first cabinet meeting as prime minister wrote to a relative describing it as “an extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.”
Be that as it may, one might have expected the prime minister to have been a little less reticent about the plans for her government, but the problem may be that it is not really hers. Nor does it seem to be, as it might nominally be in a monarchy or a republic, that of the head of state, since the president has been scrupulous in being apolitical, disinterested and dedicated, be it appointing judges to the Constitutional Tribunal – even if it means working through the night – or signing into law the budget, even if those ill-disposed to the government has suggested chicanery in its passing in a gathering outside the main chamber the Sejm.
Perhaps the answer lies elsewhere, with Poland’s very own man with a plan, PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński. His plans include a limit of two terms in office for mayors and see-through ballot boxes being just two among the planned changes to electoral laws he announced to state run TVP on Sunday. The new rules are planned ahead of 2018 local government elections. “We have to change the current, very defective, state of the electoral law and the whole organization of elections,” he said. “I want every citizen to be able to see what is happening at a polling venue, including during the counting of votes,” he added.
Kaczyński also said that he wanted planned changes to be enforced “immediately,” and that the new rules would “protect elections from any abuse”. For him there must be no repeat of the November 2014 local government elections which he claimed were “falsified”, and that 17.8 per cent of the votes cast votes were invalid, which was an indication of foul play.
There is no doubt that transparency in public life is not only good of itself but a prerequisite to having confidence in the government and administration. Folk do need to be able to see for themselves exactly what is going on so that are able to make informed choices. Similarly, politicians need the discipline of knowing that there are rules and that their actions are subject to disclosure and scrutiny.
Not only is transparency important, but above all is the rule of law. To which PiS has shown its true commitment by the attorney general, who also happens to be the justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, asking the Constitutional Tribunal, to investigate the legality of parliament’s approval of the appointment of three judges in 2010 when the previous government was in power. Ziobro said that session of the tribunal which included the tree judges in question could be “considered illegal” and their verdicts defective. This comes after hotly disputed – by the EU, the Venice Commission and opposition parties – changes to the composition and working of the Tribunal made by the government since October 2015.
So 2017 begins, it seems, with the government offering more of the same. Perhaps transparent ballot boxes are only the start, and much more will be seen through before the year ends.