Ready, steady, go. A run for the Polish Belvedere

How can different approaches to the presidential incumbency change Polish politics? Maciej Rafałowski comments on the forthcoming Presidential elections in Poland and their resulting impact.

While the world’s focus rests with the upcoming UK General Election and the presidential run for the White House, a similarly flavoured event is worthy of notice – namely, the Polish Presidential election of May 2015.

As declared in constitutional law, the Polish President virtually lacks real power. The extent of the authority of this office is almost entirely limited to the remit of representative and legislative functions. Legally speaking, the role is somewhat vague, with much of the importance of the presidential seat being conferred to it by the person who takes over next. The phenomenon was seen at its best during the drastically different presidential incumbencies of Mr L. Kaczyński and Mr B. Komorowski. The first held an opposing stance to the one held by the rest of the government, which inevitably resulted in constitutional disputes, failed attempts of conducting an autonomous international policy and legislative deadlocks. The latter, Mr Komorowski, adopted the image of a calm and noble statesman, who would rarely engage in political debates, instead serving as a symbolical representative leader of government.


The Presidential Palace in Warsaw

Although the Presidential seat may deprive the incumbent President of executive prerogatives, he can still exercise a considerable impact on national politics. Poland remains an economic frontrunner in the region of Central-Eastern Europe, leading European policy in the East. The country also borders with Russia and the war-shred Ukraine, so the Polish President’s political priorities can indeed affect the entire region.

Who, then, will become the next President of Poland? The current President`s position seemed safe at first and the political race appeared uneventful, but the tables have recently turned. According to the polls, the number of citizens who support President Komorowski is going down, while his main opponent, Mr Duda, is gaining popularity. The real elective prospects of the remaining candidates are poor, irrespective of the quality of their campaigning efforts.


The current President Komorowski

Elected after the tragic Smolensk plane crash in April 2010, Mr Komorowski called for national unity after the death of Mr L. Kaczyński and other officials under Smolensk. The political figure places the themes of family and security at the heart of his policy. This is reflected in his slogan, “Unity and Security”, which forms an important link with the recent events in Ukraine. Komorowski’s candidacy brings the added benefit of good ties with the military, experience gathered during his current Presidency, a responsible approach to the Office as well as a good relationship with the government. As President incumbent, he supported the Ukrainian revolution, opted for a bigger defence budget and adopted a fairly social-democratic approach to the economy, by supporting state benefits and opposing budget cuts in the administration.


Mr Komorowski’s main antagonist – the European MP, Mr Duda

The main opposition party, Law and Justice, chose to put forward the candidacy of Mr Duda, instead of designating its leader – Mr J. Kaczyński, as their proposed candidate. The act was criticised as a cowardly charade to evade yet another inevitable defeat of Mr J. Kaczyński. Nonetheless, Mr Duda managed to cover up initial adversities, by implementing a dynamic electoral campaign. Duda showed leadership skills during his engagement with a debate related to Poland’s prospects of joining the Eurozone. The advocate of a conservative agenda, Mr Duda opposes abortion and in vitro fertilisation, which earns him the support of the Catholic electorate. When it comes to international relations, Law and Justice’s candidate is mildly Euro-skeptical; Duda accepts the role of European Union as a guarantor of progress and stability in Europe, yet rejects the excessive influence of Brussels on Poland`s national sovereignty. His outlook on economy follows the Keynesian line, since he supports the state’s active role in the free market.

Amongst other candidates, a few are worthy of mention. One of them is Janusz Korwin Mikke, the first eccentric in Poland’s political arena, holding radically right-wing views comparable to those of Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage. Another candidate is Magdalena Ogórek, whose prominence is attributable to her beauty and poor acting career, rather than to good rhetoric. The competition also features the former singer Paweł Kukiz, who is an unexpected black horse of this election, having rallied more support than initially foreseen. His anti-establishment image attracts the younger electorate and appears refreshing, in the tenacious world of Polish politics. Janusz Palikot, a radically left-wing candidate, is the icing on the cake. Once a very promising political leader, he is now struggling for his political career. Mr Palikot’s way to stand out of the crowd involves declarations of pacifism and a highly entrepreneurial approach towards the Polish economy.

The elections are scheduled to take place on May 10th. We are yet to witness the victor of this race and the extent to which the Polish and greater European political arena will change as a result.

 Maciej Rafałowski


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