Shock after Andrzej Duda’s Presidential Election Victory in Poland

European Union 2015 - European Parliament"|Creative Commons

Last winter, the polls of trust for Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski varied between strong 60 to 80%. Almost no one could have predicted that only four months later he will lose the elections to a young, 43 years old, unknown presidential candidate of the radically right Law and Justice party. Komorowski, supported by the Civic Platform, was defeated twice: in the first and in the second round of the elections. And this means that we have entered a completely new age of Polish politics.

A growing number of voters show their disappointment with the eight years of Civic Platform’s domination and the five years of Komorowski’s presidency. It is especially visible among the youngest voters, aged between 18 and 29 – 59,9% of them supported Andrzej Duda. This group of voters does not remember the controversial time of Law and Justice government between 2005–2007. Their situation on labor market is extremely difficult and they seem to be tired of the same faces that are, in fact, ruling Polish politics since 1989. A significant generation gap seems to be developing between the Civic Platform leaders (who are usually in their sixties or so) and their potential electorate. There is also a growing discrepancy between electorate in big cities, who supported Komorowski (52,9%) and in the rural areas, which supported Duda (62%) as well as a sharp difference between the Eastern Poland, with Duda’s victory, and the West, where Komorowski was still the winner.

Andrzej Duda managed to mount and run a highly professional campaign and create the image of a modern (compared to Kaczyński’s), handsome man while at the same time using populist slogans (baby bonuses or lowering the retirement age, among others). Meanwhile, the Komorowski’s team turned out to be too cocky. This extreme difference in the attitude contributed to a vast gap between the determination of Duda and somnolence of Komorowski, who tried to persuade people that everything in Poland works perfectly. It turned out to be a slippery slope for the Civic Platform’s candidate.

What’s more, Komorowski has also made a series of disastrous mistakes after losing the first round of the elections. During the five years of his presidency he was consistently trying to build the image of a predictable watchman of Polish Constitution. He was also one of the most vocal spokesmen for raising the retirement age in Poland due to the demographic situation. After the first round of the elections, Komorowski panicked completely. Instead of mobilizing his own voters who stayed at home, he decided to fight for Duda’s voters. Overnight, he decided to call a referendum on changing the Constitution and next week he issued a proposal to revoke the reform on raising the retirement age. Trying to fight for Duda’s electorate, he has instead discouraged his own voters from supporting him and as a result, he simply destroyed his own credibility. 

If we want to analyze the presidential elections results, we need to remember that the president in Poland has little competences without the majority in Parliament, which forms the government and appoints the prime minister. In fact, the president can only block some of the governmental initiatives and has a relatively significant role when it comes to foreign policy. Therefore the parliamentary elections that will take place in October shall be crucial to the political future of Poland.

The odds are not very good for Civic Platform, which gets between 21 to 28% of support in the recent polls. Law and Justice always receives more than 30%, and for the very first time since 2007 they will probably have a new potential coalition partner. It could be the populist party organized around Paweł Kukiz, a former rock bank leader, who achieved a great score in the first round of presidential elections, and who, according to the latest polls, may count on even 20% of support in the forthcoming elections. Curiously enough, he doesn’t really have any coherent political program – he is simply a counterweight to the current political elites, he wants to “give the voice to people” and often refers to patriotic sentiments. The potential partners of Civic Platform are in a calamitous situation, both left parties would be ruled out of the parliament. Moreover, the support for Polish People’s Party (Peasants’ Party), the current coalition partner of Civic Platform, is gradually declining. The only good news for liberal voters in Poland is an increasing chance for establishing a new liberal movement organized around a young economist, the president of Association of Polish Economists, Ryszard Petru. The possible future party, sometimes referred to as “Balcerowicz’s party” (between 1997 and 2000, Petru was an advisor to Leszek Balcerowicz, former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister) can count on support between 5 to 12% if Petru finally decides to run in the forthcoming elections.

What can we expect from Andrzej Duda as the Polish president? Probably he will be more reasonable than Lech Kaczyński during his presidency, both because such a political strategy would be much more effective for his party and also because of his completely different personality – right after the election results were announced, he expressed his inclination to be the president of all Poles (something completely different than Kaczynski’s style). Nonetheless, he is still a representative of the Law and Justice’s far-right, conservative way of thinking.

The implementation of all the populist promises of Andrzej Duda would surely cost a lot, what may in turn result in a situation resembling the disastrous Greek economy, but let’s not forget that he doesn’t have the competences to introduce them, and, undoubtedly, some of them were just mere, empty election slogans. The main change might be observed in foreign policy, a playground where Duda may have some toys to play with. Law and Justice experts follow the long-standing tradition of distrust of Polish-German relations, seeing in Berlin a potential ally of Moscow rather than a loyal partner of Warsaw. Duda will definitely try to build a local coalition of partners supporting the Ukrainian aspirations without Berlin as a mediator. He will try to bring the Polish policy even closer to the United States and will remain distanced from the German leadership in Europe. Finally, he will also stay aloof towards the European Union, rather blocking all the potential initiatives towards a further integration with Polish share in the process.