Andrzej_Duda_podczas_kampanii_prezydenckiej

Andrzej Duda won both rounds. Photo: Radosław Czarnecki/Wikimedia.

Election Polish Presidential Elections: Three Times “No”

Poland went to presidential elections. The first round took place on May 10th and the second May 24th. The opposition candidate from the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) Andrzej Duda won both rounds.

Published on balticworlds.com on juni 9, 2015

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Poland went to presidential elections. The first round took place on May 10th and the second May 24th. The opposition candidate from the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) Andrzej Duda won both rounds.

The President in Poland is the formal head of the executive and has some powers to block legislation; three-fifths of the lower house of the parliament is required to overrule the veto of the President. In addition, the President has power in Poland’s foreign affairs. Duda has, for instance, pledged to strive for devolution of power from Brussels and reassess Poland’s close relation with Germany – both issues central to the government’s foreign policy. In practice, co-operation between the government and the president may not be absolutely necessary, but lack of it certainly makes politics messy.

There are three observations that are worth elaborating and they concern the three key players of the election: Komorowski, Kukiz and Duda respectively.

Komorowski

The observation that can be made about Komorowski is that the main result of the presidential election that Komorowski lost. This is more significant than the fact that Andrzej Duda won.

Komorowski came to power unexpectedly after the Presidential airplane crashed in Smolensk, Russia, on April 10th, 2010 killing the President Lech Kaczyński and 95 other people on board. Year 2010 was already deemed to have the election of the president, but in autumn. Lech Kaczyński was expected to run again. After the plane crash, new elections were called for June 2010. Two main candidates were the Marshall of the Sejm, the parliament, Bronisław Komorowski and deceased President’s twin brother and former Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński. Komorowski won with a margin of 6 percentage points and the liberal right-wing party Citizen Forum (PO) came to hold both the presidency and the prime minister’s post.

Komorowski never really indicated any stateman craft. During his campaign in 2010, he was somewhat supportive of number of bills that would have taken Poland to more gender equal and women friendly direction such as in vitro fertilization and gender parity on electoral lists. He failed to act consecutively in any of these areas. With regard to in vitro, he quickly changes his mind after assuming power. Similarly, before the 2010 elections, he declared that the “role of the President is to support the attempts to equal chances [between men and women]”[1], which however after the elections meant passive acceptance of the 35 percent quota the parliament passed. Similar hedging has marked Komorowski’s action with the retirement age. First, before 2010 election, he stated that no one would be forced to work longer than until 65; then came the pension reform and the retirement age was set on a gradual growth. In spring 2015, he announced plans that also after 40 years of career, retirement is possible, but after the elections he annulled the plan.

Such issues are not in the hands of the President to decide alone, but the combination of his engagement and subsequent inaction of the issue do raise concerns about his negligence towards the electorate throughout his presidency as well as the concern that he plays with popular issues for his own advantage without taking the issues themselves seriously.

The example of mortgage crisis can further explain the loss of Komorowski. In Poland, mortgages are commonly tied not to zloty but either to Euro or the Swiss franc that have given much lower interests rates that mortgages taken in zloty. About 40 percent of mortgages in Poland are in Swiss francs. When the Swiss National Bank released the franc from the bound exchange rate, its value jumped against the zloty, initially by over 20 percent. Most Poles have their earnings in zloty thus directly increasing their mortgage expense by 20 per cent. Despite this, the government led by PO and the President failed to pressure the banks to act on the matter. The winning candidate Duda, in contrast, was very clear in demanding that Polish banks – on their own cost – have to convert mortgages in Swiss francs to Polish zloty at the exchange rate the mortgage was taken.

It was only after the results of the first round were published that Komorowski woke to realise how far he and his politics had drifted from the electorate. His first move to gain popularity was to resort to an old antagonism between “rational” and “nationalist” Poland. He conceded that “it is necessary to listen to the electorate”, appealed to the people to “mobilise the whole rational Poland” in order to “act in order to keep the power.”[2] And what would be more effective way to listen to the electorate than calling for a referendum? President Komorowski, as a reaction to low support for his candidacy, called for a referendum on introducing first-past-the-post electoral system in Poland. This bill would not only break the 25-year tradition of proportional electoral system in Poland, but its whole constitutionality is still under question. Furthermore, the idea about first-past-the-post was first initiated by Paweł Kukiz, who came third in the first round.

The real problem of Komorowski and PO is that they have played a pragmatic economic agenda that has benefited the well-to-do urban Pole, but not the rest. This well-to-do urban Pole, however, also appears to be more interested in cultural liberalism than PO has ever to be.Whilst their economic pragmatism may appease the median voter, their cultural and value orientation only puts the median off.  Issues such as gender equality, in vitro fertilization and same-sex partnership enjoy much higher support among the population than among the politicians. The total failure to act in these areas have led to the peculiar phenomenon of many representatives of sexual minorities turning to vote Duda – as the only way to get Komorowski and PO out.

When Komorowski was elected in 2010 many commentators were happy that he would bring some stability to otherwise rather tumultuous politics. What he brought was not stability but stagnation that further isolated the political class from the citizens. The first observation concerning the presidential elections that can be made is that a sufficient number of Poles are tired of this.

Duda

Western media has been slightly shocked about the future of Poland with Andrzej Duda as the President. The Telegraph quotes Polish dissident and publicist Adam Michnik that “Poland is on the velvet road to dictatorship”[3]Parliamentary elections are due in autumn 2015. This all ominously echoes the era of the Kaczyński-brothers in charge of the government and presidency from 2005 to 2007.

In opinion polls in January 2015, Komorowski scored well over 60 percent whilst Duda had difficulties to exceed 20 percent. Although his candidacy was announced in November 2014, still in February 2015 the biggest daily Gazeta Wyborcza considers Jarosław Kaczyński’s (sic!) possible actions as a President in an article on the pension reform.[4]Duda rose to candidacy from nowhere. His most public appearance before the candidacy was a failed campaign for the mayor of Cracow in 2010. In 2014, he became a member of the European Parliament. Duda holds a PhD in law and has a position at the Faculty of Law at Jagiellonian University in Cracow.

Duda succeeded in his electoral campaign much better than Komorowski. He is young, only 43 years.Many consider him handsome and he smiles often. His public appearances have conveyed a picture of an energetic person. He readily agreed to Kukiz’s proposition for a public debate before the second round and throughout his campaign he has showed willingness to engage in an open dialogue. In addition, he readily attacked some unpopular political moves PO had introduced like the pension reform and he has actively engaged in proposing solutions to the mortgage crisis. Above all, he is not afraid of pointing at the private sector as partially guilty of some social ills that remain in society. This has been beyond the courage of PO and Komorowski.

Poland has been ruled for almost eight years by government led by PO. These years have been politically and economically stable, which is certainly an achievement in itself. But they have also pointed out that the winners and the losers of the economic policies of PO remain the same. The urban professional business people benefit from PO and good ties with Germany and rest of Europe; the countryside, the poor and the retired have been constantly left behind and without consideration. The unwillingness of politics to take charge of the development of the country over economic forces is something that many Poles are not in agreement with. Duda together with PiS have called for a change in the passivity of politics vis-à-vis economics and laisser-faire attitude in many realms of public life. In a way, the election of Duda as a president could well be seen as the first nail also in the coffin of the government that is facing elections in autumn 2015. Indeed, already in the first round, Duda was much more popular among the young voters than Komorowski – not the image commonly attributed to Catholic, nationalist and conservative politician.

It seems that the juxtaposition between the “rational” and the “nationalist” that Komorowski evoked this time plays into the hands of the “nationalist” Duda and PiS. This distinction has characterised the political rhetoric from 1989 when Polish market-oriented liberalism was formulated precisely in opposition to politics as a capacity to take political actions in the public realm as well as to nationalism and strong connections between the Catholic Church and the state. Duda and PiS are not afraid of being “nationalist” or “Catholic” – at least this provides them with a firm point of reference, something that Komorowski and PO have come to lack.

The second observation that can be made is that Duda’s victory results more from the dislike the electorate feels towards Komorowski and PO dominated “rational” politics than a strong support for their “national” and “Catholic” position. This dislike is deeper in cities up to 200 000 inhabitants and in the countryside, as well as among the young who dare to dream of a better society and who have not had time to tie themselves too strongly with the existing realities to be afraid of changes.

Kukiz

The third observation concerns Paweł Kukiz, the former rock star, the actor, and the dark horse of the election. Running as an independent candidate he scored over 20 percent of the vote in the first round. He campaigned with radical suggestions directly attacking the political establishment. Who Kukiz really is can be difficult to answer. As a former rock star he enjoys some street credibility, but this draws more on nationalist values than those emphasising individual liberty. He has, for instance, opposed the Pride parade in Warsaw in 2010.

One of his key points in 2015 campaign was to introduce first-past-the-post electoral system in Poland – after 25 years of functioning proportional representation. This, he argued, would help Poland finally break with the communist past and the networks inherited that still run deep among the contemporary political elite. First-past-the-post would, Kukiz argued, increase the accountability of the politicians to the electorate scrapping the intermediate party to its minimum. This perhaps explains why no political party came to support Kukiz’s candidacy in the elections.

The average voter of Kukiz is young and academically educated; the share of those having a vocational or high school education only is only about 15 per cent. Over 43 per cent of his voters did not vote in the last presidential elections five years ago. Furthermore, about 17 per cent of his supporters voted for Komorowski in 2010 (and just over 10 per cent Jarosław Kaczyński). The success of Kukiz draws from the anger and frustration of this segment of population.

The third observation concerns the fact the Kukiz represents a radical anti-establishment and anti-institutional view to Polish politics.The anger and frustration the young and academically educated harbour came to be channelled via Kukiz in the elections. Being well aware that it is his voters that will decide on the next President in Poland, Kukiz called for a public debate between Komorowski and Duda that he would himself mediate. This would have given Kukiz the possibility to put his agenda on those of the remaining candidates. But it would also have given the electorate an opportunity to compare the three leading candidates and decide which one of the remaining two answers their demands best.

Duda readily agreed on Kukiz’z proposition, but Komorowski declined it on the grounds that Kukiz’s proposition is bizarre, “that either one is a politician or one is a citizen only”.[5] Indeed, there, Komorowski nails down what Polish politics has been under his presidency and the accompanying liberal PO-government: there is a political elite that is not the same as the citizens, and the citizens should not aspire to become a part of that elite. It seems that that “rational Poland” Komorowski was trying to mobilise before the second round shares another type of rationality than he does.

Three Times “No”

The three observations I have made in fact all point at one and the same direction. “No” to Komorowski, “no” to post-political politics, and “no” to the whole way politics in Poland is organised. At the same time, this overall negativity also means that it is difficult to point out anything that would mobilise political action beyond the elections. The fact remains that Komorowski enjoyed over 60 per cent popularity still in January, that is before he became engaged in the campaign. However, soon after he started the campaign, his support started to fall. How should this be interpreted? One way to go about it is blame the bad electoral campaign of Komorowski and emphasise the success of Duda’s campaign. Komorowski slogan was “choose agreement and security” (wybierz zgodęinie bezpieczeń stwo). “Agreement” and “security” were supposed to be attributes of the “rational Poland” and against the nationalist threat of Duda. “Agreement”, however, carries a certain historical baggage in Poland. The result of the Round Table negotiations in 1989 was called an agreement, a pact between the former ruling communist class and the new democratic challenge to the communist. For many, this agreement signalled the weakness of the new regime to break with the past. For Komorowski and PO, “agreement” means a rational consensus against all forms of extremism in Poland in order to secure the continuity of Poland’s integration with Europe. And if not, Komorowski, argues, Polish freedom will be lost: “electoral madness has been the source political, dangerous, blindness”.[6] The problem here is that 15 years ago the continuity of European integration had some political importance, but now it has become an argument for means to an end that no one seems to know or even care. That Poland would be in the “heart of Europe” and not in its “periphery” just does not mean anything now. So partly, yes, it is Komorowski’s failed campaign that is to blame. But politics cannot be reduces only to electoral rhetoric. That would mean that the content of politics also in reality is just that hollow.

The other way would be to focus on the deeper dynamics of politics. In a situation where almost all signs point at the direction of growing dissatisfaction the quick changes in Komorowski’s support could well mean just that dissatisfaction is accompanied with political apathy. Komorowski’s campaign may well just have reminded the voters about his elitism and distance, but it could equally well be just that the elections provided an opportunity for the people to show what they really think about politics in more general. This conclusion could also be backed by the continuously low turnout: since the 2000 elections, the turnout has remained between 56 and 49 per cent in the presidential elections. Politics as such has difficulties in Poland. This general difficulty is reflected in the loss of Komorowski, in the victory of Duda and in the success of Kukiz.

Polish press and commentators link the current presidential elections to the coming parliamentary elections. This connection is likely to be maintained also in the press over the summer. It remains to be seen whether Duda’s presidency can in fact change the practice of politics as the management of economy and other current problems or does he manage to bring in the political character of politics, the active engagement in the ruling of society. What we are expecting to see, however, is the quest for alternative ways of acting and thinking in politics. This is, in fact, the founding principle of a new political party, Partia Razem that still lacks an official English name. It was formed in the vane of the presidential elections and campaigns for the “worker against the elite”. It remains to be seen if “Partia Razem” will tackle the problem of “politics” or whether it will fall the victim of the Polish political establishment that turns politics into management.

As a final note, Duda, originally known for his strong – and political – position both against in vitro and same-sex partnership has already conceded that both could be allowed under certain circumstances. A welcome change from him, but also a sign that energetic engagement in politics has already taken the pragmatic turnthat plagues PO and Komorowski!

All statistical data comes from the National Electoral Committee and Gazeta Wyborcza “Wyboryorezydenckie. Wyborcza Kukiza? Wykształcony, młody I wkurzony. A ktogłosowałna Dudę I Komorowskiego?”,11th May, 2015.


[1]Wybory 2010. Komorowski: Podpiszęustawę o parytetach, GazetaWyborcza,

http://wybory.gazeta.pl/wybory/1,106728,8031863,Wybory_2010__Komorowski__Podpisze_ustawe_o_parytetach.html (27 May 2015).

[2] “Komorowskizapowiedział referendum w sprawie JOW-ów, Wprost, http://www.wprost.pl/ar/506084/Komorowski-zapowiedzial-referendum-w-sprawie-JOW-ow/ (30 May 2015).

[3]Poland on ‘the velvet road to dictatorship’ after AndrzejDuda wins presidential elections, The Telegraph,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/poland/11628799/Poland-on-the-velvet-road-to-dictatorship-after-Andrzej-Duda-wins-presidential-elections.html (28 May 2015).

[4]Wydłużonywiekemerytalny.Kiedy ta emerytura?,GazetaWyborcza,http://wyborcza.pl/1,79078,17416687,Wydluzony_wiek_emerytalny__Kiedy_ta_emerytura___PORADNIK_.html (28 May 2015).

[5]“Propozycjaniejasna I co najmniejdziwna”.Komorowskiniechcedebatować z Dudą u Kukiza, TVP.info, http://www.tvp.info/20042378/propozycja-niejasna-i-co-najmniej-dziwna-komorowski-nie-chce-debatowac-z-duda-u-kukiza (30 May 2015).

[6]Wyboryprezydenckie. BronisławKomorowski: wybierzmyzgodęibezpieczeństwo, Polskie Radio.pl, http://www.polskieradio.pl/5/3/Artykul/1437774,Wybory-prezydenckie-Bronislaw-Komorowski-wybierzmy-zgode-i-bezpieczenstwo (30 May 2015).

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