- Polish voters have picked Bronisław Komorowski of the governing Civic Platform (PO) party to be their president for the next five years, replacing Lech Kaczyński, who was killed in a plane crash on April 10. Komorowski took 52.6% of the vote in the July 4 runoff despite a gaffe-filled campaign. He also faced a last-minute surge from his opponent, Jarosław Kaczyński, the late president’s twin brother and prime minister from 2005 to 2007.
Consequences of the election
- Komorowski’s victory will likely usher in a long-awaited period of peace in Polish politics. Prime Minister Donald Tusk can look forward to governing without the constant threat of a presidential veto hanging over his head. President and Parliament can cooperate to tame the budget deficit, which hit 7.1% of GDP last year. It will be easier to fight public debt and pave the way for euro adoption.
- A Komorowski presidency is also good news for diplomacy since Poland’s heads of state and government will be speaking to Brussels with one voice. The PO’s pro-EU policies contrast sharply with the Euro-skepticism of the Kaczyński twins and their Law and Justice (PiS) party. As prime minister, Jarosław Kaczyński butted heads with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the EU treaty, trying to use the number of Poles killed by the Nazis during World War II as leverage to win greater voting rights in the bloc.1 Also, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, which the Kaczyńskis founded in 2001, promotes a “moral revolution” based on Roman Catholic values and sees “Europe” as a threat to these values. The main bones of contention include homosexual rights and abortion.2
- Poland’s president matters, unlike the figureheads in several other Central European countries (e.g. Hungary and Slovakia). Overriding a presidential veto in Poland requires a three-fifths vote in the lower house of parliament, the Sejm. And the PO is at loggerheads with the PiS on most major policy issues. The PiS takes a leftish stance on the economy, favoring state spending and opposing privatization. The late President Kaczyński had vetoed many of the Tusk administration’s fiscal reforms, notably its health and pension bills. He also helped to scupper plans to adopt the euro by 2010. Before the election, Tusk described the choice between Komorowski and Jarosław Kaczyński as a choice between “five years of peace or five years of war.”3
- Yet a Tusk-Komorowski alliance does not necessarily guarantee smooth sailing. The roughly 50-50 split in yesterday’s ballot runs almost diagonally through the heart of Poland, with the northern and western regions supporting the president-elect and the agrarian southern and eastern regions coming out for Kaczyński. There was also a marked difference between the voting tendencies among people in small towns versus big cities.
- Watered-down reforms. The PO and PiS will square off again in local elections later this year and a parliamentary vote in 2011. Given the Komorowski’s narrow margin of victory, the PO is unlikely to begin implementing full-scale economic reforms that may damage their chances at the ballot box.
- No excuses. Tusk will no longer have a presidential veto to blame for any failures or setbacks.
- Left support. Komorowski may owe his margin of victory to the formerly communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which supported him over Kaczyński in the second round of the presidential vote. In the first round, SLD nominee Grzegorz Napieralski took third place with 13.68 percent of the vote – surprising, given that support for the SLD among sure voters has not risen above 9% over the past two years. The SLD is showing signs of strength and may now try to call in a political favor from the PO.
- No common enemy for the PO. This is the first time Poland has not had a Kaczyński as either head of government or head of state since 2005. Without a common enemy to struggle against, members of the PO may be given to infighting, especially if there are disagreements over the pace of reforms.
- Kaczyński comeback. Kaczyński milked his brother’s untimely death for votes, making frequent public appearances with his brother’s family and dressing in somber clothing. He also appeared less confrontational and more moderate during the campaign. He did much better than opinion polls predicted: A swing of just 412,000 votes in the second round would have swung the presidency to him. Should the Polish people begin suffering economic pain due to government reforms, Kaczyński will be poised to return as premier in next year’s general election.