Polish presidential election: a harbinger of times to come?

Polish electionsJustyna Slominska and George Candon on the prospects for Poland following the presidential elections.

 

On Sunday conservative challenger Andrzej Duda (Law and Justice party, PiS) unseated incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski (Civic Platform, PO) in Poland’s presidential election. The win was surprising because Komorowski was initially expected to easily win a second term, but the reality is that there was little difference between the two candidates. Both Duda and Komorowski focused their campaigns on attacking one another and making unrealistic promises. The results therefore seem to be more a reflection on the parties rather than their candidates. Poles are so upset with the incumbent governing party that they were willing to elect the ultra-conservative PiS candidate over the incumbent.

Duda will be inaugurated in August which gives Komorowski and his team a couple more months in power. This will be a critical time for the government as the president in Poland has certain limited but important powers, including blocking legislative proposals. That is why there will be a concerted push to finalise a €9.63bn defence contract before the new president takes office. There might also be an attempt to change the electoral rules ahead of the October general election, which could benefit PO to the detriment of PiS.

Once Duda takes power there will be something of a legislative freeze for the two months of co-habitation before the new parliament is returned. However the president will still be able to push through some significant changes in important state institutions, including in the National Security Office and the National Bank, and possibly a shift in foreign policy, as Duda is reputedly an anti-Russian eurosceptic.  In EU relations many speculate he will try to move away from France and Germany to focus on building relations with regional neighbours in the Baltics and Ukraine, especially if PiS wins the elections in October. He wants Poland to stay out of the euro for as long as possible and has campaigned for a permanent US troop presence in Poland, which could mean greater tensions between Moscow and Warsaw. Should PiS win the October elections it will really put the cat among the pigeons, as a big EU member state will be governed by a committed eurosceptic party (a member of the ECR group in the European Parliament). Following Duda’s election Mogherini herself spoke of the need to rethink Europe.

The general election campaign is slated to be even more brutal than the presidential campaign. Poland’s ruling Civic Platform (PO) is seriously considering a deep reshuffle after losing the presidential election. Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz is likely to promote in her government and party other up-and-coming young PO politicians like recently-appointed Justice Minister Borys Budka. But this may be too little too late. Pundits reckon that PO will split following the general election into a liberal party with a raft of fresh faces, and the old guard gathered around Komorowski and Kopacz. If the electorate believe this split to be a foregone conclusion, it may be a shoe-in for PiS.

 

A Polish national, Justyna Slominska is a Senior Consultant at FTI Consulting Brussels, where George Candon is Senior Director

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