Polish Government Keeps Majority in Vote on School Referendum

Poland weathered a test of its ruling coalition today after parliament rejected a referendum on the government’s overhaul of the educational system.

Deputies in the lower house of parliament in Warsaw voted against holding the referendum by a 222-232 vote, even as two lawmakers belonging to its junior coalition partner voted for the measure. The ruling Civic Platform party had seen its majority shrink to two seats in recent weeks as several lawmakers left the party in protest at plans to cancel bonds held by privately managed pension funds.

Poland could face early elections if the ruling coalition loses its majority, government spokesman Pawel Gras said on Oct. 30. Allegations of vote-buying at a regional election of the ruling party last month further damaged Civic Platform, which is trailing the opposition in the polls for the first time since taking power in 2007.

“The result shows we don’t have problems with a majority,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters in parliament after today’s vote. Tusk said he will carry out changes in his cabinet this month, declining to give a date except to say the revamp will happen “for sure before Dec. 1.”

Civic Platform and its ally the Polish Peasants Party imposed voting discipline to defend government plans to implement a one-year reduction of mandatory school age to six years, a step already approved by parliament in 2009. The measure would align Poland’s school age with that prevailing in most European Union countries and help offset forecast shrinkage of the workforce over the next 20 years.

The motion to call a referendum was brought to parliament by a group of parents after they collected almost 1 million signatures in favor of the ballot. They argued that Poland’s primary schools aren’t ready for the change, a claim Tusk told lawmakers today is “a myth.”

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