VISEGRAD: Andrzej Duda needs to be a president, not a puppet

By bne IntelliNews August 6, 2015

Wojciech Kość in Warsaw -

 

Polish presidents have a history of becoming less hardline party functionaries once they are in power. However, Andrzej Duda, Poland’s sixth president, is not expected to follow this tradition, as his presidency is one of key elements to ensure his party, Law and Justice (PiS), returns to power.

Duda may of course transform himself into a truly independent head of state sometime in the future. But up to now he has shown no signs that he will be anything more than a party functionary dressed up as president.

Duda, who will be sworn in on August 6 for a five-year term, was a member of the European Parliament and a lesser known PiS activist until the PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski hand-picked him to run for the presidency.

Starting at a mere few per cent in the polls, Duda pulled off one of the most effective campaigns in Poland’s post-1989 history to beat the incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski of Civic Platform (PO) in the May presidential vote.

This is, however, only a prelude to PiS’ plan to return to power in Poland after the general election on October 25 after close to eight years in opposition.

The importance of Duda’s victory became evident quickly. Since PO lost the presidency, the ruling party has been put on the defensive and has yet to recover, despite making a flurry of promises and changes in the law to regain voters.

The PiS is ahead of the PO by an average margin of 14 percentage points, according to the five most recent opinion polls. Duda himself enjoys top spot in trust rankings, with 57% of Poles declaring they trust the new president, while only 18% claiming the opposite.

Standing up to Germany

In numerous interviews and public statements before taking over, Duda has left little doubt that his programme for the next five years is the programme of his party.

“I will step down as president if I do not submit draft laws to reduce the retirement age [to 65 from current 67, introduced by PO] and to increase tax-free income [to PLN8,000 from the current PLN3,091]," Duda told PAP on August 5. The two promises also feature prominently in PiS’ programme.

Duda has also spoken in favour of PiS’ other pet ideas, such as the introduction of a tax on banks’ assets or the need to make it clear to the European Union that its climate and energy policy is dangerous to Poland’s coal-reliant economy.

In foreign policy, Duda likes to refer to former president Lech Kaczynski, who died tragically in 2010 in a plane accident in Smolensk and for whom Duda had worked as an advisor. “There does not have to be a revolution in the Polish foreign policy, but corrections are needed, some of them deep-running,” Duda told PAP on August 5. He went on to suggest that Polish diplomacy needs to be “activated”.

“I’m a supporter of the Central Eastern European countries’ tightening cooperation – not just in terms of security, but also in terms of economy,” he said. He also spoke in favour of a stronger Nato presence in CEE, and hinted that Poland should stand up to Germany more.

“[The topic of Nato’s presence in CEE] must be brought about in talks with Germany. Germany is a great partner [of ours]. They should be respected. But let’s remember that those who don’t respect themselves are often losers,” Duda said, in a clear echo of PiS’ charge that the PO government lacks self-esteem when dealing with Germany and other European countries.

With Duda in office, PO is likely to have a difficult three months ahead of the elections, because the president can easily slow down any legislation the government wants to introduce. While the PiS does not have enough votes in parliament to stop the government from reversing presidential vetoes to bills, this power on its own is a powerful tool to hinder the government from getting much done.

In a recent letter to readers of pro-government newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Duda pledged vaguely to be a president that unites Poles. “I will be a president of dialogue and agreement… I am ready to take part in the great project of repairing Poland,” Duda wrote.

But in his reply, Wyborcza’s editor Jaroslaw Kurski displayed the yawning gulf between the PO and PiS over the current state of Poland. “We do not think Poland needs much repairing because it is not in ruins, as Poles are repeatedly told.”

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