Poland will hold presidential elections on 10 May 2015. Until now 12 candidates have declared their intention to stand, yet until now the campaign has been rather slow. The main reason for this is the fact that only incumbent president Komorowski appears to be able to win the election – possibly even in the first round. With the announcement of the election date two weeks ago, candidates now have to gather 100,000 signatures by the 23 March to be able to stand. In this post I present background information about each of the candidates (focussing on the three candidates nominated by major parties) and give a brief overview of the preferences of the electorate.
Candidates from major parties
After remaining silent with regard to his intentions, president Komorowski eventually announced that he would run again one day after the date of elections was announced. While he stated that he would run as a ‘citizens’ [i.e. independent] candidate’ with the support of Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz’ Civic Platform and not as the party’s official candidate, voters are unlikely to see him as anything but that (furthermore, the PO will pay for campaign). Komorowski is clearly the most experienced of all candidates. A former Solidarity activist, he has been a member of parliament since 1991, served a minister of defence and was speaker of parliament until his election as president in 2010. Although the beginning of his presidency was still overshadowed by the tragic crash of the presidential aircraft and death of president Kaczynski in Smolensk, he has managed to win over the trust of a vast majority of citizens. With a constant approval level of over 70%, Komorowski comes close to the popularity of his predecessor Aleksander Kwaśniewski (1995-2005) who was re-elected for a second term in a single round.
Likely in anticipation of Komorowski’s victory, Law and Justice (the main opposition party) has not nominated any of their most senior leaders but 43 year-old MEP Andrzej Duda. The nomination of Duda, a former constitutional judge, staff member of the late president Kaczyznski and party sokeserson, was rather unexpected as it had been assumed that a more high-ranking (national level) politician would run. Since his nomination in early December (he was the first person who officially announced his candidacy), Duda has shown himself to be an active and relatively competent campaigner. Nevertheless, doubts over the party’s choice of candidate have not disappeared as it is clear that Duda is not on par with the experienced and well-known Komorowski.
The nomination of 35 year-old historian and TV presenter Dr Magdalena Ogórek (independent) by the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) has been the greatest surprise of the campaign so far and she remains the most talked about candidate. Although her campaign start this weekend was reported on moderately favourably in the media, her campaign still suffers from what can only be called a false start. First, the announcement of her candidacy by party leader and former Prime Minister Jerzy Miller coincided with the death the of the SLD’s former Prime Minister Józef Oleksy. Second, Ogórek has not given any interviews yet. Since the announcement of her candidacy, speculations about her work experience in the presidential office and government apparatus (which partly turned out to be student internships), the quality of her doctoral dissertation, and investigations against her husband for embezzlement have thus dominated reports about her and were not actively counteracted by her team. Apart from a tarnished reputation, Ogórek also has to deal with the fact that she does not enjoy the unequivocal support of the party base and regional leadership who felt that they were not sufficiently included in her selection. However, it is notable that Ogórek is the first woman candidate to be nominated by a major political party and is one of only four women (including Anna Grodzka – see below) who have ever run for presidential office in Poland. This novelty factor seems to be part of the party’s reason for nominating her, but there appears to be another reason – after some media outlets reported mainly on her model-looks, party representatives quickly jumped to her defence and thus tried to highlight the SLD’s progressiveness in choosing her. Although Ogórek not party member and claims to be a candidate of the whole left, she is (just like Komorowski for the PO) the SLD’s candidate for all intents and purposes.
Candidates from smaller parties
Representatives of a number of smaller parties have also announced their start in the presidential elections, although none of them have any chance of entering a potential second round or winning more than 5%.
The Polish Peasant Party (PSL; political centre), junior coalition partner in the current government, has put forward Adam Jarubas. Jarubas is currently the government-appointed governor of a western Polish province but does not have significant political experience on the national level. Among the candidates from the political left Janusz Palikot is the most well-known. He is a former Civic Platform politician and particularly known for his controversial appearances; in 2011 his party, the left-liberal ‘Your Movement’ surprisingly entered parliament and was able to mobilise a large number of young voters. However, current opinion polls put him at only 1%. The Green Party together with 11 other left-wing organisations has nominated their MP Anna Grodzka (formerly ‘Your Movement’) for president following an open primary election (highly unusual in Poland). Grodzka gained international prominence when she was entered parliament in 2011 as Poland’s the first openly transgender MP and will likely achieve a result comparable to Palikot. The new, economically and socially liberal ‘Libertarian Party’ has nominated the musician Waldemar Deska. He has not been included in opinion polls yet, but will likely remain below 1%. His candidacy, such as those of other small party representatives, is rather a means for increasing public awareness of his formation.
There are also a great number of candidates from the far-right of the political spectrum. Janusz Korwin-Mikke (MEP and leader of the freshly formed party KORWIN) who is mostly known currently has the largest public approval (3%). Nevertheless, recent revelations about extramarital affairs (including 2 children) have weakened his position vis-à-vis other candidates. His former party, the Congress of the New Right, have proposed their vice-chairman Jacek Wilk (no political experience; likely to poll less than 1%). The candidate of the ‘National Movement’, Marian Kowalski, is slightly better known that Wilk (although not expected to receive a better result), yet might be barred from running due to an impending criminal conviction. Also from the far-right, yet without explicit party support, are Grzegorz Braun and Paweł Kukiz. Both have no chance of gaining more than a few thousand votes.
It becomes clear from the latest opinion polls that the majority of the electorate will vote for Komorowski. While there are certainly a number of other factors to consider as well, Komorowski as a candidate is unique in this race in so far as he/his policy positions are appealing to a large number of voters and that there is only very little overlap between his support base and those of other candidates. This can best be understood by looking candidate on the political left and (far-)right of Komorowski (who can be classified as centre-right). On the left, Magdalena Ogorek has the largest potential voter base due to her party affiliation (as a communist successor party, the SLD has still exclusive appeal to a specific, yet shrinking group of society). Nevertheless, the left-leaning younger voters she would need to reach are also courted by Janusz Palikot, Anna Grodzka and Waldemar Deska. A small fraction of Komorowski’s more left-leaning supporters might also vote for her, the same applies for more liberal-minded voters of PiS candidate Andrzej Duda. Duda faces a dilemma that is similar due Ogorek. Although he can count on a greater and more loyal base of party supporters, the great number of far-right candidates will also try to convince some of his potential voters to vote for them. As Duda needs to present himself more centrist to steal voters away from Komorowski, the latter might help to be a useful strategy, particular for Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Last, Adam Jarubas is in the difficult position that his potential electoral is almost equally split among supporters of Komorowski and Duda, so that he will have problems to gain anything more than the 2% current opinion polls suggest.
Last but not least, this all leaves the question why the majority of candidates would run at all given Komorowski’s almost inevitable victory. While individual-level factors should not be discounted, the main reason in this case seems rather simple. Poland will hold parliamentary elections in autumn this year and all parties try to get more national-level exposure. Individual candidates, too, can only benefit from a wider recognition of their name as the open-list system used in the elections might still get them into parliament even if they fail to achieve any notable result in the presidential race.