Polish Presidential Elections - 2015: Afterword

Compared to Bronislaw Komorowski, the new Polish president's rhetoric towards Russia will be somewhat harsher. Whether it will become a part of the official position of the Polish government will depend on the ability of the PiS to take advantage of its success at the upcoming autumnal parliamentary elections this year.

The latest presidential elections in Poland offered prospects of the most routine polls in the political history of the country of the last 25 years. The stably high approval rating of the incumbent president led everyone to believe that there would be no intrigue. For the first time, the leaders of the top parties – the Law and Justice (PiS), Polish People's Party and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) – have abstained from fielding candidates, unanimously giving politicians of the second and third echelons a go-ahead. Social surveys conducted in February showed that incumbent President Bronislaw Komorowski had approval of 63% of Poles, while his key competitor - Andrzej Duda of the Law and Justice Party – could only hope for 15% of votes. As the election day was approaching and pre-electoral campaigns were gaining momentum, Komorowski's rating was gradually falling, but the first round of votes entailed truly unpredictable results: with minimum advantage, the intermediate lead was taken by Andrzej Duda, a candidate unrenowned in the general public, followed by Pawel Kukiz, 52, a rock singer, with 20.8% of votes. The latter had an approval rating of only 2-3% in March. But the real sensation was the second round, where Duda won the elections.

Duda's win, or Komorowski's defeat?

What is the cause of such outcomes at the Polish presidential elections? The key factor here was the high pre-electoral approval rating of the incumbent president, backfiring on his campaign office. Bronislaw Komorowski's pre-electoral campaign was definitely lacking dynamism, freshness and innovation. The stakes were put on slogans and theses, many of which repeated the pre-electoral programme of 2010. Another setback was that the president was dissociating himself from the aid of the Civic Platform and emphasizing that he was registered as an independent candidate. It was done to save Komorowski's image from the flaws of the government's performance.

But the tactic was disastrous: first of all, voters and political opponents were still associating the president with the prime minister; secondly, the campaign omitted obvious achievements in the economic sector during the rule of the Civic Platform in the campaign. Furthermore, the criticism vector from Komorowski's competitors zeroed in on him and his progress during the presidency as the front runner candidate. His campaign headquarters failed to transform the criticism into debates of opponents between each other. In addition to that, Komorowski would often give his opponents reasons to rebuke him for over-confidence in own victory. For example, prior to the first round of the elections, he skipped TV debates with other candidates for president, having a detailed interview with Polsat instead. We can say that Bronislaw Komorowski was more successful as a president than a candidate for president.

Andrzej Duda introduced pre-electoral theses oriented towards significantly higher social expenditures to the public: free nurseries, education and medicine; lower retirement age; higher non-taxable income, social pensions and payments. They were the main points in his campaign. Attempts of opponents to label him as a populist and an irresponsible politician were parried by Duda, he said that if the majority wanted to see such an agenda, it should have the right for existence. Important elements in Duda's victory included the high voter turnout among supporters of the PiS, the disappointment of SLD voters with Magdalena Ogorek and a successful campaign in such social networks as Facebook and Twitter. Moreover, Duda made a wise move to distance himself from PiS Leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who had the highest anti-rating among Polish politicians together with Janusz Palikot.

Wind of change?

Duda's success was also augmented by more active attraction of young voters in the second round than Komorowski. The first round revealed that the older generation of Poles were the main voters for Duda, Komorowski was supported by middle-aged residents of large cities with higher education Kukiz was adhered by young people aged from 18 and to 29. In other words, Kukiz's voters decided the elections, on the whole. In this particular case, the rule that had been traditional for the competition between the Civic Platform and PiS stalled: the higher the turnout, the better the result of the Civic Platform and its candidates.

Polish social democrats tried to woo the young generation of Poles during the elections, but their experience was less successful. Magdalena Ogorek, who was backed by the SLD, gained very little support from the population, only 2.4%, which is far from the electoral potential of 14-17% of the party. Polish ex-President Aleksander Kwasniewski opined that her result was "not far from the rock bottom". Of all those voting for the SLD at the latest parliamentary elections, only a third casted votes for Ogorek. The party made a grave mistake by putting the stakes solely on the young and the empathy of the candidate. Ogorek's main disadvantage was the lack of electoral experience and poor eloquence. She often left questions asked by journalists and the common folk without an answer. By the way, Ogorek could not even say whether she had voted for the SLD at the parliamentary elections in 2011 or not. Closer to the equator of the pre-electoral campaign, Ogorek started posing as an independent candidate, which provoked numerous conflicts with members of the SLD and her own campaign office.

The outcome is quite logical: Magdalena Ogorek made the finish with the worst result the left parties have seen in the last 25 years. It seems as though the SLD had not formed even the contours of a pre-electoral strategy and programme five months ahead of the pivotal parliamentary elections. Being the only party traditionally advocating balanced relations with Russia in the Polish parliament, the SLD is close to being left without a seat at the Sejm for the first time since the party's foundation.

The recent elections demonstrated that, despite the relative success of the government in the economic sector, the Polish society still has demand for new faces and political projects. The tendency has been reflected in the high results of the Palikot's Movement at the parliamentary elections of 2011 and Pawel Kukiz at the presidential polls. The latter offered a programme basically consisting of one point: a reform to establish single-member constituencies for elections. Kukiz's proportional system was also bashed for offering young and unrenowned people a poor chance to show themselves in politics. In the polemic with Komorowski, Andrzej Duda took the idea to reform the electoral laws with a grain of salt and tried to avoid direct answers in the issue. However, in the second round, the Polish youth opted for the 43-year-old PiS candidate. It means that the election of Andrzej Duda – a representative of the generation of the 1970s – as the president is the beginning of the generational change process in the Polish political establishment.

Andrzej Duda and Poland's foreign policy

In modern Poland and beyond, many compare Andrzej Duda to Lech Kaczynski and expect the new president to show similar conduct on the international arena because both are considered to be European sceptics and belong to the PiS party. Duda himself claimed during the pre-electoral campaign that he admired the style of Lech Kaczynski, though it is clear today that Duda's foreign political line will be very different.

Andrzej Duda is a much more avid "team player" and adherent of Polish integration into the Euro-Atlantic economic space and security. Duda, for instance, is opposed to adoption of the euro and harsher EU environmental laws in Poland, but he keeps emphasizing that Poland is a member of the EU and all issues with Brussels should be settled via discussions and within the framework of EU institutions. His objective is to boost financial support and development of the Polish economy by means of European funds, not separate from the EU. Concerning security issues, unlike Lech Kaczynski, who fully relied on the US alone, Andrzej Duda is adamant that Poland should develop cooperation with absolutely all members of NATO.

The situation in Ukraine and Russia's foreign policy are an integral part of the new president's international agenda. The topics have been given top priority in the presidential campaign, despite their active coverage in Polish media. Like the majority of the candidates in the presidential campaign, Andrzej Duda spoke for support to Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The candidates of the most marginal political forces – Magdalena Ogorek and Janusz Korwin-Mikke who got only 5.5% of votes in total – were the only ones to call for cooperation and dialogue with Moscow in light of the complicated plight in international relations. Moreover, Duda characterized the Kremlin's modern foreign policy as imperial and has encouraged the EU to be more solid in supporting Ukraine. Russia itself, in Duda's words, is not a democratic state. It does not fulfill international commitments and pursues an aggressive policy against its neighbors which the EU should actively counter. Besides, the new Polish president would most likely ceaselessly remind the Kremlin that Russia has not returned the remains of the president's plane that had crashed at Smolensk over five years ago.

In short, compared to Bronislaw Komorowski, the new Polish president's rhetoric towards Russia will be somewhat harsher. Whether it will become a part of the official position of the Polish government will depend on the ability of the PiS to take advantage of its success at the upcoming autumnal parliamentary elections this year.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.