Opposition takes surprise lead in Polish presidential election

By bne IntelliNews May 11, 2015

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Andrzej Duda, from Law and Justice (PiS), looks to have stunned incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski in the Polish presidential vote on May 10. Poland’s main oppositon party will now hope to build on that momentum in the run-off to take place on May 24 and in the lead-up to the parliamentary election in the autumn.

Based on exit polls, the right-wing contender looks to have gained 34.5% of the vote. Komorowski, previously seen as a shoe-in, is seen on 33%, a shock for the president and his centre-right ruling party Civic Platform (PO). Final results are due late on May 11.

A low turnout of around 49.4% that favoured the disciplined electorate of PiS is seen as a factor in Duda’s suprise success, but Komorowski’s campaign lacked vigour during the last few weeks. Critics suggested the incumbent suffered from complacency, as his lead in pre-election polls – though dwindling – never dropped below 10pp. 

In contrast to earlier projections that the Civic Platform candidate would stroll to victory should he even be forced into a second round, he now faces a rival with growing momentum. That shift was already evident in Komorowski’s reaction to the exit poll, which was far from convincing, and in stark contrast to Duda’s powerful address to his voters. The president spoke of a “serious warning to the ruling camp”; Duda expounded on the “victory ahead of us”.

Jockeying

The pair has already begun jockeying for support from Pawel Kukiz, whose anti-establishment message resonated with younger voters in particular to earn him third place in the vote with 20%. Both courted the former rock musician in their speeches on election night, but Kukiz – who has previously seen supporters overlap with Komorowski – avoided any declaration regarding who he will endorse.

The incumbent will likely need to get Kukiz on board ahead of May 24. Hardly any of the other candidates are likely to back Komorowski; the majority of the remaining contenders are right-wing and set to endorse Duda.

The remainder of the 11 runners failed to gain more than 5% of the vote. Magdalena Ogorek of the Social Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) flopped to just 2.2% support, putting Poland’s mainstream leftist party into the deepest crisis in its history, just five months before the upcoming parliamentary vote.

The presidential vote has long been seen as an overture to that election in October, and an early prognosis of whether Poland is going have a new government after eight years of Civic Platform. Duda’s win, if confirmed, could well change the dynamics in that race, as was PiS' strategic goal. Komorowski’s poor showing will do little to enhance Civic Platform’s effort to win a third term in office.

“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.

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