Poland – Incumbent Komorowski loses second round of presidential elections to opposition party challenger

On Sunday, 25 May, Poland held the second round of presidential elections and elected Andrzej Duda, a 42-year old MEP from the right-wing ‘Law and Justice’ party (PiS), thus ousting incumbent president Komorowski. Although Komorowski had gone into the presidential race as the clear favourite he was only the runner-up in the first round two weeks ago and failed regain sufficient ground in the run-off. The election of Duda hails a new phase cohabitation with the government of Ewa Kopacz (Civic Platform – PO) and is likely to influence to outcome of the parliamentary elections in October this year.

Election winner Andrzej Duda (PiS) celebrates with his family | © andrzejduda.pl

The victory of Andrzej Duda in the first round was a hard blow for incumbent Komorowski who left his election party (together with Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and other VIPs) shortly after the announcement of the first exit poll. While his challenger Duda celebrated and immediately returned to his campaign on the ground by giving out coffee to commuters in Warsaw the next morning, Komorowski – whose camp was visibly unprepared for the result – waited until later in the day to pick up his campaign. He initiated a referendum on the introduction of single-member electoral districts – which had been one of the key propositions of third-placed candidate Pawel Kukiz – and the abolition of party financing by the state as well as the interpretation of tax law to the taxpayer’s benefit. Although presidential activism for campaign purposes not unheard of – some authors have suggested that part of presidents’ incumbency advantage stems from their ability to affect or avert policy change – the initiation of such a step almost immediately before the run-off appears to be unprecedented in Europe. Overall, the referendum (now likely to be held in early September this year) together with the following negative campaigning were evidence of desperation on the part of Komorowski’s team.

In another (somewhat surprising) turn, however, Komorowski emerged as the winner of the two TV debates held between him and Duda on 17 and 24 May. Yet the president eventually failed to sway voters and grant him another term. On the evening of the election, the publication of exit polls and results was delayed by 90 minutes after a polling station had to be momentarily closed following the (natural death) of an 80-year old woman and the voting time for the 600-odd voters in the district was extended. [1] Duda eventually received 51.55% of the vote (increasing total votes from 5,179,092 to 8,630,627) and Komorowski 48.5% (increase of total votes from 5,031,060 to 8,112,311) at a turnout of 55.5%, slightly up from the 2010 election. The results of the exit poll suggest that Duda not only managed to receive the majority of votes from third-placed candidate Kukiz and other right-wing candidates, but also from those who voted for the PSL (which has been the PO’s junior coalition partner since 2007) in the last parliamentary elections.

presidential elections in poland 2015 - result 2nd round

Duda’s election is the beginning of another phase of cohabitation between president and government. Duda has shown himself to be significantly more critical towards the EU and neighbour Germany (although German-Polish relations have flourished since Duda’s party left the government in 2007) as well as more hawkish towards Russia. Given the president’s role in international affairs, this may well lead to conflicts with the government. During the election campaign, Duda also promised to reverse the increase in the retirement age, yet while he can suggest legislation to parliament, such a bill would be unlikely to pass. Nevertheless, given that Duda will only be inaugurated in August, there will be little time for conflict before the parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Current polls still see Prime Minister Kopacz’s PO and Duda’s PiS neck-to-neck with a third of the vote (these numbers have however been fluctuating with PiS seemingly pulling forward in the last weeks). Duda’s victory has now given a boost to his party which – after only a brief stint in government between 2005 and 2007 – has spent most of its existence in opposition and could now get into office on its presidential tailcoats. However, there are still two major unknown factors in this equation. First, it is not clear which role a potential political movement led by third-placed presidential candidate Pawel Kukiz will play – some polls suggest a potential of up to 20% of the vote (equivalent to his first round vote share) and unless the political left manages to join forces, might receive most if not all of the sizeable protest vote. Second, a PiS spokesperson announced that Jaroslaw Kaczynski would be PiS candidate for Prime Minister. Kaczynski – PiS Prime Minister 2006-2007, twin brother of the late president Lech Kacynski and presidential candidate in 2010 – is an icon of the political right, yet also one of Poland’s least popular politicians. In the end, his candidacy for Prime Minister might therefore do more to mobilise his opponents than his supporters.

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[1] This is normal practice in Poland and similar delays (albeit due to the lack of a sufficient number of ballot papers) have happened in parliamentary elections before.

Full results can be found on the website of the Polish Electoral Commission (in Polish):
http://prezydent2015.pkw.gov.pl/325_Ponowne_glosowanie

Detailed results of the exit polls can be found here (in Polish):
http://www.tvn24.pl/wybory-prezydenckie-2015,117,m

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