Wojciech Kość in Warsaw -
The importance of the Polish presidential vote will only become clear in October, when the results of the parliamentary elections are out. Judging from the candidates fielded for the May 10 vote, it is clear that the presidential election itself has become secondary in Poland.
The leader of the biggest opposition party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski of Law and Justice (PiS), as well as Leszek Miller of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and Janusz Piechocinski of the co-ruling Polish Peasants’ Party (PSL), are not running.
As a result, except for the incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski, the parties have chosen to put forward second-tier candidates whose task appears more to push their party’s agenda ahead of the parliamentary vote in October than seriously compete with Komorowski.
In a sense, then, the result of the May 10 vote – and the likely run-off two weeks later – should be a fairly good prognosis of whether Poland is going have a new government this autumn, after eight years of Civic Platform at the helm.
“The presidential vote has become a primary election of sorts ahead of the parliamentary vote,” Jerzy Baczynski, editor of the influential Polityka weekly wrote on May 6. At the same time, this has caused a dramatic drop in the quality of the debate in the presidential campaign, he added.
Komorowski looks set to win, although even he cannot be certain of the margin and his poor result could trip up his Citizens’ Platform (PO) result in the parliamentary vote.
In early polls, Komorowski came close to the 50% threshold beyond which the vote is decided in the first round already. He has been weakening recently - not a good prognosis for PO.
Komorowski’s campaign has lacked vigour – perhaps because not one candidate, except for the PiS’ Andrzej Duda – has really challenged him. From a candidate on the edge of a landslide win just a couple of months ago, the incumbent has to be wary now not to appear too weak in the first round in order not to give Duda and PiS a wind in their sails.
The lead motifs of Komorowski’s campaign - security and national accord in the context of an uncertain geopolitical situation beyond Poland’s eastern border – seemed hard to attack. But Duda’s vigorous campaigning underpinned by shameless populist rhetoric - often without much connection to the president’s constitutional powers – helped him close in on the incumbent.
Throughout much of January-March, Komorowski would poll at over 50%, with Duda as low as 19% at times. Most recent polls still see the incumbent ahead, but at an average of just 41%, compared to Duda’s almost 30%.
Komorowski’s extra worry is that in the event of now very likely run-off vote, hardly any of the other candidates are likely to endorse him. Duda is more likely to win endorsements from the majority of the remaining, mostly right-leaning contenders.
This is unlikely to be enough to beat Komorowski, but it will definitely give PiS confidence before the parliamentary vote, which is PiS’ ultimate goal for this year.
So a poor result for Komorowski may trigger a chain of events in which the incumbent’s party loses power to a PiS that could pick PO’s current coalition partner, the Polish Peasants’ Party (PSL), or the Congress of the New Right as coalition partners, depending on how well their candidates – Adam Jarubas and Janusz Korwin-Mikke, respectively – fare in the presidential vote. They come at an average of 2.5% and 4.9% in the polls, respectively.
If there is another significant impact from the presidential vote, it is that it may well seal the end of Poland’s post-communist Democratic Left Alliance party. The decision of the SLD to field the virtually unknown Magdalena Ogorek seems to have backfired, with Ogorek polling at an average of only 3.3%.
Ogorek has gone off-message, praising lowering corporate tax, and has been unable to court Poland’s increasing anti-clerical electorate, while neglecting issues such as income inequality. On the sidelines, a number of more modern leftist initiatives are waiting to capitalise on SLD’s demise, should Ogorek’s result on May 10 weaken the party beyond repair.
The remaining candidates are not going to play any role, with the surprising exception of Pawel Kukiz – a former rock musician – whose anti-establishment message is winning him an average of nearly 8% in recent polls.
Kukiz is seen as a candidate that may not endorse Duda - Kukiz used to support PO during its early years. Apart from Komorowski and Duda, it is the former rocker’s result that will be watched most closely in the evening of May 10 after polling stations close.
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