Presidential elections 2015 News
Warsaw has long been as island of stability in an increasingly volatile Central and Eastern Europe. But this presidential race is exposing the cracks in the country’s ruling elite and paving the way for what could likely be more unexpected results in the autumn parliamentary elections.
The results of the first round of the presidential election came as a shock for the country’s ruling elite — and for all Europe. President Bronislaw Komorowski had been expected to win going away but he was suddenly confronting a tougher-than expected runoff. He had a week to persuade Poles to re-elect him as his party — and the European Union — begin to worry.
The results suggested growing fatigue with Civic Platform, the party that has ruled Poland for almost a decade. The problem, however, is that there is no sensible alternative to it.
Andrzej Duda, the fresh face of Poland’s conservative Law and Justice Party, defied pollsters by defeating Komorowski in the first round. Meanwhile, a former punk rocker turned anti-establishment campaigner, Pawel Kukiz, stunned the country by scoring 20 percent of vote. The Polish left was virtually decimated, winning a combined 4.2 percent, roughly the same share as the Holocaust-denying, radical libertarian candidate Janusz Korwin-Mikke.
Duda and his Conservatives may talk tough about Russia, but he is challenging this pro-EU approach. He seeks to revise relations with Germany and distance Warsaw from Brussels. This surely makes Duda the favorite with the Kremlin, which is striving to disrupt the unity of the European Union as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Moscow also loathes Warsaw’s hawkish position on Ukraine.
Critics say Komorowski ran a lazy campaign. After losing the first round, the president now needs to motivate supporters who did not vote and could decide the election. Though he appeared as a strong leader in two televised debates with Duda last week, many fear Komorowski woke up too late.
Civic Platform has been in power since 2007, but has been weakened since its founder, and former prime minister, Donald Tusk swapped Warsaw for Brussels to serve as president of the European Council. Under Tusk’s successor, Ewa Kopacz, the party has struggled to redefine itself.
Presiding over uninterrupted economic growth while recession hit Europe, Civic Platform gave Poland an important voice in Brussels. This was by no means guaranteed. Poland has narrowly avoided the Hungarian scenario, where xenophobia and Europhobia have entered mainstream politics and democratic institutions look threatened. Still, after eight years in power, it is no surprise that Poles are feeling fatigue.
But alternatives are few.
Duda may seem, objectively, a sensible candidate. But many fear he could prove to be a puppet of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the party leader and Poland’s chief provocateur. When Kaczynski was prime minister and his identical twin, Lech, was president, the conservative elites ruled Warsaw and it and its relationships with neighbors were tense.
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