bartekodias, Polish Embassy - London, 11 April 2010 via Flickr

Expect the Unexpected: Five Consequences of the Polish Elections

In order to lose the presidential elections, Brosnilaw Komorowski would have to run over a pregnant catholic nun, a Polish intellectual recently said. In February 2015, polls predicted a landslide victory for Komorowski. However, in spite of no nun being harmed, the new polish president is called Andrzej Duda – a second-rank politician from the right-wing opposition party Law and Justice. So much about political prediction.

Here are five consequences we should expect from the presidential election results:

1. A divided society

Sure, the traditional division between the liberal northwest and the conservative southeast was apparent in the election results. However, new demarcation lines popped up, such as those between well-off and poor regions, or between young and old generations.

Komorowski won almost all the big cities where living standards have been rising the most over the last decade, while Duda was supported by more rural populations, who have rather witnessed economic growth from a distance. Moreover, Komorowski failed to attract younger voters who are tired of unemployment and a Civic Platform ruling since 2007.  In the first round,  youngsters mostly supported former rock star Pawel Kukiz, an anti-system candidate, who unexpectedly scored 21% of votes. In the runoff, the majority of Kukiz enthusiasts switched to Duda as a hope for a change. By contrast, Komorowski was strongly supported by Poles aged 30-49, who opted for stability.

2. Comeback of old radicals

Despite Duda’s declared intentions, it is questionable whether he will be able and willing to distance himself from the combative party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Kaczynski is a divisive figure in Polish politics: he is connoted with radicalism and fraught foreign relations that bedeviled Poland from 2005 to 2007, when his party dominated both the parliament and the presidential palace. In order not to put off the centrist voters, he stayed in the shadow during the presidential campaign.  Now, together with other radicals from his milieu, he returns to the political front and he will most probably run for prime minister in the up-coming parliamentary elections. The influence of the party radicals on young and inexperienced Duda remains an open question.

3. Wind of change in foreign policy

Duda as a president will cause a change in the atmosphere of Polish foreign policy. Even though much power in Poland rests with the government, the president oversees foreign policy and can set its tone through speeches and visits. We should expect Duda to push Poland out of the European mainstream in order to gain autonomous strength in external relations. This will imply revising relations with Germany, focusing on the relations with the United States and redefining national interests. Yet, how strong the wind of change will blow depends on the autumn parliamentary elections. If Law and Justice wins, change will be more than atmospheric: Poland will risk losing its image as an euro-enthusiastic island of stability.

4. New kids in town

Gone is the almost bipolar political scene of the last decade, with Civic Platform and Law and Justice dominating and other parties being marginalized.  The spectacular outcome of Kukiz suggests that his anti-establishment party is able to score far above the 5 percent electoral threshold and not only to enter the parliament but also to become one of the potential coalition partners for Law and Justice.

Due to the widespread Civil Platform fatigue, famous economists Ryszard Petru recently established a new initiative called Modern Pl. The latter could attract former Civic Platform voters if Petru decides to run for parliament. There is also movement on the left: after the failure of the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance´s candidate, there is a growing will among other left-oriented groups to join forces and run in the elections as a new party called Together (this time without the old post-communists leaders). The coming months will show which of these new kids can grow up in the face of elections.

5. The end of Civic Platform

The election result sends a clear warning signal to the Civic Platform which now has more than one reason to worry about the parliamentary elections in October. Not only are Poles bone-tired of the party’s dominance. Also, the essential argument Civic Platform used in previous elections – the danger of the victory of Law and Justice – falls on deaf ears. Several generations of young voters don´t remember the confrontational and allegedly authoritarian style of politics of Law and Justice (or are not afraid of it). The ruling party has to find a way of regaining public trust, but there is very little time left. Civil Platform will most likely decide to become a catch-all party and try to gain the left-wing voters who are orphaned after the defeat of Polish lefts. If the strategy fails, this will probably mean the disintegration of one of the most successful political projects in Poland after 1989.

The opinions expressed in this blog contribution are entirely those of the author and do not represent the positions of the Dahrendorf Forum or any of its hosts Hertie School of Governance, London School of Economics and Political Science and Stiftung Mercator.

The opinions expressed in this blog contribution are entirely those of the author and do not represent the positions of the Dahrendorf Forum or its hosts Hertie School and London School of Economics or its funder Stiftung Mercator.