Can Europe Make It?

The Polish presidential election: what happens now?

Everything you need to know about Poland's recent presidential election, at a glance.

Slawomir Sierakowski
27 May 2015

Andrzej Duda. Wikimedia. Public domain.A presidential election in two rounds was held in Poland on May 10 and 24, 2015, becoming the closest contest in Polish history. (The second round was won by Duda with 51.5% of the votes, to Komorowski's 48.5%.) The incumbent president, Bronislaw Komorowski( Civic Platfom - PO) has shamefully lost after only a single term in office, and it was an election in which he should have been sure of victory. What happened? While the president elect, Andrzej Duda, (Law and Justice - PiS) said he will be the president of all the Poles, Komorowski was preaching going to war. In fact, he’s just going into retirement.

What explains the result?

Mainly Komorowski’s weaknesses. He wasn’t particularly able at mobilising his own supporters to go to the polling stations in contrast to his opponent. It was also noted that Duda had pushed Komorowski into making some major changes in the country only two weeks before his defeat. Such interpersonal dynamics could only be observed with embarrassment.

But how did Duda win more than 50%?

For a while, Komorowski had 60% of votes in the opinion polls, with Duda far behind. Why did some of these voters come around to Duda in the end? They were brought over by Paweł Kukiz, who got 21% in the first round. First he took voters away from Komorowski who experienced a notable slump in popularity. However, in the second round both politicians divided these voters among themselves unevenly (60:40). Duda received just enough to win. The youngest and the oldest – the typical electorate for change – voted for him. The former as they can take a risk. Voters aged 25-49 are hostages to the status quo and can’t withstand sudden changes; they have families, small children, loans – they need stability. The oldest can afford to follow their own views without looking at welfare issues because usually their affairs are already settled, for better or worse. Mediocrity and dismay with the status quo were enough to support a candidate resembling a facial composite. He didn’t associate with anything and couldn’t bring any associations with him. Perhaps this is a significant advantage, since even the great SKOK scandal wouldn’t stick to him. Neither did Jarosław Kaczyński.

The institution of the president has dropped to a second tier

Is there a trend towards ever less meaningful politicians becoming presidents? Komorowski was an important politician of the PO but he wasn’t the leader. Duda wasn’t just ‘not the leader’, but in the perception of his party and that of public opinion he was a nobody. It looked as if the party had bought him on eBay. One can now only wonder: did PiS believe the elections to be lost, so they presented Duda or did they present Duda as he gave the highest probability of victory? This is not a meaningless question. Therein lies the answer to the limits of the possible emancipation of Andrzej Duda.

Duda did not thank Kaczyński, which was impolite of him

He did not forget to acknowledge Komorowski, but forgot the head of PiS? It’s hard to imagine this being a coincidence. You might say: Kaczyński is not leaving his place of hiding since this is not the end of elections. There are still parliamentary elections ahead of us in October. However the whole speech by Duda has shown that he wants to model himself after Aleksander Kwaśniewski, by creating a balanced, autonomous centre of governance. Someone like that won’t be the leader of any parliamentary campaign. PiS needs to be led by Kaczyński, who will either vacate his hiding place or will have to come up with something new.

There is one more crucial change besides Duda

In this campaign PiS has scaled the most impressive hurdle on the way to power. It wasn’t PO but the lack of coalition possibilities. Up till now PiS might have even won with PO but they still wouldn’t be able to govern as, unlike PO, they would have no one to govern together with. The fall of Palikot and SLD and the merging of several per cent of the electorate around Pawel Kukiz gives PiS a chance and significantly weakens PO.

There will be more Rebels Throughout A Vote

Kukiz is but another Palikot or Mikke. He’ll stay afloat through the media cycle and then disappear. He will catch the “establishment plague” – he’ll start mingling with other politicians and he’ll become less appealing than the next rebel. And since, just like Palikot, he’ll bring with him a random motley of people, they will fall an easy prey to either PO or PiS.

PO without a leader

Komorowski, in his after election speech appeared to have simply switched places with Duda. It’s hard to believe that Kopacz will be a good leader who, after the electorate thrashed the government, could lead her people on a counteroffensive. The fact is internal party resources are thin. Fraction leaders Grzegorz Schetyna and Cezary Grabarczyk are only just that – fraction leaders. There is no generation of 40-year-olds in PO as they’ve eliminated themselves in a series of scandals. There’s no Piskorski, Nitras, Nowak. Perhaps they can get their own Duda on eBay?

What will happen to Duda?

During the campaign, the increased pace of expenditure required to fulfil all the promises made by Duda has even outperformed the deficit counter of Leszek Balcerowicz as displayed in the city centre of Warsaw. It was, absurdly, more than the annual budget of the state. Duda was well aware that no one is going to remember! But perhaps people will believe, or at least can count on its looking better than promises by Komorowski. To return to the lower age of retirement he will need a friendly government. But to have an amicable government he would have to cooperate with PiS. In such a conundrum it’s best to simply forget the promises. Most of them are unrealistic anyways. He might end up like Komorowski – vanquished by mediocrity.

What will happen to Poland?

Komorowski wasn’t obstructive but also wasn’t particularly helpful in pushing the country forward. Does that matter? When there’s PiS on the other side many would say it does, a lot. Poland is being pushed forward by its growing economy, the EU, NGOs, culture but not by politicians, who only bicker in the media while their actual influence is miniscule. If Duda is a change that paves the way for PiS then the future isn’t looking at all bright.

However, those who prophesy a huge smouldering crater where there was once a country are overreacting. It’s one blessing in disguise of postpolitics - one can change politicians but can’t change the policy.

Budapest won't be erected here, as Poland isn’t Hungary with its imperial aspirations still alive. And PO isn’t the disgraced and decimated Hungarian opposition. Kaczyński won’t revalue his alliances and won’t bet on Putin. This is because Warsaw was under Tsarist not Habsburg rule and no one will buy that, even among those who voted for him.

Palikot, the first Rebel Throughout a Vote, scored 10%, Kukiz already scored 20%. The next one might score even higher and might break that oligopoly apart. Concurrently there might be an emerging Polish Podemos/Syriza which might come about from the promising Razem party or some other initiative. But that’s a completely different story.

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