On Sunday, 10 May, Poland went to the polls for the sixth popular presidential elections in its recent democratic history. Despite incumbent president Bronislaw Komorowski’s impressive lead in the polls just a few months ago, Andrzej Duda – hitherto tipped as runner-up – managed to win the first round with 34.8% while Komorowski trailed behind at 32.2% achieving the worst result of an incumbent president to date. Given the almost 25% of votes by other right-wing candidates, chances for a change in the presidential office are higher than never before.
In a campaign widely hailed as an indicator of the parliamentary elections that will take place in October this year, both main candidates – supported by the two major parties, Civic Platform (PO) and Law and Justice (PiS) – struggled to find clear themes. While the conflict in Ukraine was brought up by both sides, it was far from being divisive. More consistent was the conflict over socio-cultural values, exemplified by the ratification of the European Convention against domestic violence which Komorowski eventually signed yet accompanied by vocal protest from the political (far-)right and Catholic church. Furthermore, Komorowski promised to continue his current conduct in the presidential office, i.e. acting in the background and supporting the government led by his own (former) party. Andrzej Duda on the other hand promised a more active presidency. The result of this first round is certainly surprising given that Komorowski had been the clear frontrunner in the polls. Duda’s victory will make the second round a much closer race than initially expected and the result impossible to predict.
The second surprise of this election – already foreshadowed by his rise in the opinion polls during the last weeks – was the success of independent far-right candidate Pawel Kukiz, a former punk rock star, who won 20.3% of votes. Criticising dominant parties and calling for single-member electoral districts in parliamentary elections (Poland currently uses an open-list proportional system in multi-member districts) in a bid to strengthen the personal connection between voters and elected representatives, boded well with many Poles who have become tired of the established parties of the (centre-)right. Kukiz – along with controversial far-right MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke (4.4%) – thus managed to gather most of the protest vote and will play a key role in the second round should he/they decide to publicly back Andrzej Duda.
Magdalena Ogórek, an independent candidate supported by the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) on the other hand only received 2.4% of the vote. After the first opinion polls and speculations by analysts suggested that she might be able to achieve as much 10% or more, her decision not to give any interviews until late in the campaign, ineffective strategy to counter criticism regards her qualifications for the office as well as the public discussion of her lack of campaign finances and support from the SLD have meant that even the traditional SLD electorate stayed at home or voted for other candidates. Although eventually being the youngest and only female candidate (3 more women failed to meet the registration threshold), her ‘novelty’ factor quickly wore off. Nevertheless, her newly won high public profile will still be an asset for her and the SLD in the upcoming parliamentary elections in October. This is of course under the condition that the party improves its position in the polls where it is currently at only 4%.
The remaining left-wing candidate, Janusz Palikot, only managed to gain 1.5% of votes – a result that is indicative of the disintegration of his party, ‘Your Movement’ (previously ‘Palikot’s Movement’), during the current parliamentary term and the fact that Poles have grown tired of his eccentricities. It is very unlikely that the party will make a return to the Sejm in October (either on its own or as part of a left-wing alliance).
While most analysts and voters had expected incumbent Komorowski to be re-elected for a second term at the run-off in two weeks’ time, Duda’s and Kukiz’ exceptional results now cast doubts on the president’s ability to emerge victorious. Should Kukiz decide to publicly support Duda, the race might become too close for comfort for Komorowski. While it can be expected that he will once again try to stress to association of Duda with former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski (twin brother of the late president Lech Kaczynski and Komorowski’s opponent in the 2010 elections) in order to mobilise all those voters who fear that a period of controversial policies and international isolation like 2005-2007 (when Lech and Jaroslaw occupied posts of both president and prime minister) repeats itself, the effectiveness of such a strategy is questionable. Rather, Komorowski’s ability to win will rely on the mobilisation of voters – not only was the turnout of 49.4% an all-time low for the first round of presidential elections but it was even lower in the urbanised West of Poland, the Civic Platform’s stronghold.
More information on the election results can be found on the pages of the Polish Electoral Commission: http://prezydent2015.pkw.gov.pl
A great resource on opinion polls in the forefront of the election and the upcoming second round is Ben Stanley’s ‘Pooling the Presidential Poles’, available here: http://rpubs.com/benstanley/63596