The Polish Politics Blog

Analysis of the contemporary Polish political scene

Month: May, 2015

What does Andrzej Duda’s victory mean for Polish politics?

The right-wing challenger’s shock victory in the Polish presidential election has given the opposition an enormous boost ahead of the more decisive autumn parliamentary poll. It suggests that the ruling party can no longer rely on its previously successful strategy of mobilising reluctant supporters through generating fear of an opposition victory.

Mr Komorowski’s weak and complacent campaign

In one of the biggest electoral upsets in post-communist Polish politics, Andrzej Duda – the candidate of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, the main opposition grouping – pulled off a stunning victory in the May 24th presidential election second round run-off defeating incumbent Bronisław Komorowski by 51.6% to 48.5%. Mr Komorowski, who was backed by the ruling centrist Civic Platform (PO) party led by prime minister Ewa Kopacz, started the campaign with personal and job approval ratings of over 70% and appeared odds-on favourite to win, possibly even in the first round. However, the President saw his poll ratings slide during the course of a weak and complacent campaign that appeared to be based on the assumption that his popularity would translate automatically into electoral support.

Mr Komorowski’s core campaign message, based on the slogan ‘Agreement and Security’, was the claim that, unlike his opponents, he represented political consensus and stability. These qualities had, he argued, ensured that Poland avoided sharp internal conflicts thereby maintaining continuous economic growth throughout the global financial crisis and underpinning national security at a time when the international situation in the region was so unstable. However, Mr Komorowski’s abstract message about the apparent success of Poland’s post-communist transition appeared disconnected from the day-to-day realities of life experienced by many Poles. Even as the country’s economy has grown, large swathes of the population beyond the large urban centres have failed to see an increase in their living standards. In particular, a large number of young Poles often faced an invidious choice between moving abroad to take jobs that fell well short of their abilities and aspirations or remaining in a country which they felt offered them few prospects for the future. Mr Komorowski completely under-estimated this growing wave of frustration among younger voters who had previously formed a key element of Civic Platform’s core electorate. Many of them supported the charismatic former rock star Paweł Kukiz who, standing as an ‘anti-system’ candidate, secured more than one-fifth of the votes in the first round of the election. Mr Komorowski’s ‘security’ message, that a period of on-going international tension was not a time to risk experiments with political novices, had greater potential appeal to voter concerns about instability on Poland’s Eastern border, but as the Ukrainian conflict no longer dominated news headlines it was not a salient campaign issue.

Mr Duda promised an active presidency

Mr Duda, on the other hand, ran an energetic and dynamic campaign that caught Mr Komorowski off-guard. Focusing on meeting voters across the country and presenting a youthful and modern image, Mr Duda was not a stereotypical Law and Justice politician and had a much more open style and ability to connect with ordinary people. In contrast to Mr Komorowski’s alleged aloofness and passivity, Mr Duda promised to be an active President who would improve social dialogue. His campaign focused primarily on socio-economic issues and included a large number of electoral promises that were popular but both went beyond the competencies of the presidency and were potentially extremely costly. These included pledges to raise tax allowances significantly and repeal the Civic Platform-led government’s extremely unpopular pension reforms that increased the retirement age to 67, while the only notable revenue-raising measures proposed were new taxes on banks and supermarkets.

More broadly, Mr Duda tapped into discontent with the political status quo and turned the election into a de facto referendum on the government which many Poles had grown weary of after nearly eight years in office. He linked its apparent inertia, which many commentators referred to dismissively as the politics of ‘warm water in the taps’, with Mr Komorowski’s passive presidential style, attacking him for ignoring criticisms of the government and rubber-stamping virtually all of its laws.

The ‘politics of fear’ did not work

It was only after the initial shock of Mr Komorowski’s unexpected first round defeat – when, in spite of having been well ahead in every poll during the campaign, he finished behind Mr Duda by 33.8% to 34.8% – that the President tried to develop a more dynamic campaign and communicate with voters in a sharper, more engaging way. This included, for example, preparing himself intensively for the two head-to-head TV candidate debates where he adopted a much more combative (although not particularly consensual) style and, in the first of these at least, was able to catch Mr Duda out on a couple of occasions. Belatedly, Mr Komorowski also tried to present himself as an active and responsive President by using the instruments at his disposal to unveil a serious of legislative initiatives. For example, in an effort to win over Mr Kukiz’s supporters he initiated a national referendum on introducing single-member electoral constituencies and abolishing state party funding, two of the ‘anti-system’ challenger’s signature issues. He also proposed legislation allowing Poles to retire after having worked for 40 years (which he withdrew immediately after polling day). However, Mr Komorowski’s new initiatives were so disconnected from his previous campaign message, that he represented continuity and stability, that they were widely dismissed as inauthentic, particularly given that as President he had rejected earlier citizens’ initiatives that enjoyed widespread public backing

In fact, the main pillar of Mr Komorowski’s second round campaign was an attempt to re-conceptualise another earlier slogan which tried to draw a contrast between what he termed ‘rational’ and ‘radical’ Poland. Realising that this appeared to dismiss a large proportion of the population as beyond the democratic pale, thereby contradicting his claim to be the candidate of consensus and agreement, Mr Komorowski tried to re-frame this message by drawing on his record as a veteran of Poland’s anti-communist opposition and presenting himself as the ‘President of our freedom’ pitted against politicians like Mr Duda who, he claimed, wanted to interfere in and control ordinary citizens’ private lives.

In part, this was simply an attempt to revive Civic Platform’s traditional anti-Law and Justice message: that the ruling party is a better guarantor of stability than the confrontational and allegedly authoritarian style of politics that many voters (rightly or wrongly) associate with Law and Justice and its combative leader Jarosław Kaczyński. This theme was a key element in all of the ruling party’s recent, successful election campaigns. However, it also involved a conscious effort to ‘toxify’ Mr Duda – whom Law and Justice tried to present as a moderate and reasonable centrist – by, for example, highlighting his alleged radicalism on moral-cultural issues where the public took a socially liberal stance such as in vitro fertilisation. The Komorowski campaign drew attention to the fact that, in 2012, Mr Duda had supported a draft law that would have led to the imprisonment of doctors involved in such procedures, a proposal that Law and Justice has since withdrawn. They also tried to claim that Mr Kaczyński, who kept a very low profile during the campaign, would attempt to steer Mr Duda from behind-the-scenes.

Mr Komorowski’s strategy was based on the premise that a substantial number his potential voters had abstained in the first round as a protest to show the government a ‘yellow card’, but could be persuaded to return to the fold when faced with the prospect of a Law and Justice-backed candidate being elected President. The key to his success was, therefore, felt to be boosting turnout – which, at only 49% in the first round, was a record low for a Polish presidential election – among his more reluctant supporters. In fact, Mr Duda won in spite of the fact that turnout in the second round actually increased to 55.3%, broadly in line with the previous 2010 presidential poll. This questioned the previous received wisdom that Law and Justice had a highly motivated but limited core electorate and that there was a ‘glass ceiling’ preventing its support from rising above a certain level. Perhaps most dangerously for the ruling party, Mr Duda’s victory, therefore, suggests that its previously, highly successful strategy of mobilising the passive anti-Law and Justice majority through invoking the ‘politics of fear’ is no longer as effective as it once was, particularly among a new generation who have no (positive or negative) memories of the 2005-7 Law and Justice-led governments; Mr Duda secured 60% support among younger voters.

Civic Platform’s strategy in tatters?

The Polish presidency is not simply a ceremonial role and retains some important constitutional powers such as: the right to initiate legislation, refer bills to the Constitutional Tribunal, nominate a number of key state officials, and, perhaps most significantly, a suspensive veto that requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority to over-turn. However, the President’s competencies are much less significant than those of, say, his French counterpart and real executive power lies with the prime minister. The presidential poll should, therefore, be seen above all as a precursor to the more important autumn parliamentary election which will determine the shape of the Polish political scene for several years to come.

Given the relatively short gap between the two elections, Mr Duda’s victory potentially changes the dynamics of the parliamentary poll. A key element of Mrs Kopacz’s political strategy when she took over the premiership last autumn was that a resounding victory for Mr Komorowski, preferably in the first round, would create a wave of popular enthusiasm that could help carry the ruling party through to a parliamentary election victory. Mr Duda’s success has left this plan in tatters and beyond the (increasingly less effective) tactic of invoking the politics of fear, Mrs Kopacz’s plan for victory now appears to consist mainly of a series of voter-friendly social and welfare policies.

Moreover, although Mr Duda will not be sworn in as President until the beginning of August, he will still be basking in post-election glow of victory and could use the months between then and the parliamentary poll to smooth the way for the opposition by introducing popular legislation that will be very difficult for Civic Platform to reject, most likely his two flagship policies of lowering the retirement age and increasing tax allowances. At the same time, while, up until now, Law and Justice appeared to have no obvious coalition partners among the main parliamentary groupings – which meant that, even if it ‘won’ the election, Civic Platform could still end up remaining in office – the possible entry into parliament of a substantial ‘anti-system’ right-wing bloc clustered around Mr Kukiz could radically alter possible future coalition configurations, opening up a potential pathway to power for Mr Kaczyński’s party.

All to play for, but Law and Justice has momentum

In fact, a lot can happen during the next five months and the election outcome remains open and unpredictable, especially if Law and Justice falls into the trap of excessive triumphalism. Mr Komorowski’s defeat was a narrow one and the ruling party still has large reservoirs of popular support that it can draw upon as well as the backing of most of the cultural and media establishment. Moreover, the focus of Civic Platform’s negative campaigning will be Mr Kaczyński who has much more political baggage than the fresh-faced Mr Duda. However, it is clearly Law and Justice that has the momentum, while Mr Komorowski’s defeat could prompt in-fighting and recriminations in what is, beneath the surface, a deeply divided and factionalised ruling party. Above all, Mr Duda has a much greater popular mandate than any Civic Platform politician and his ability to overcome the ‘politics of fear’ and apparently break through Law and Justice’s ‘glass of ceiling’ of support has potentially very considerable implications for the future of Polish politics.

What does Paweł Kukiz’s election success mean for Polish politics?

A former rock singer and political novice achieved stunning success in Poland’s presidential election coming from nowhere to finish third with more than one-fifth of the vote. The momentum from his campaign could propel an electoral reform-based protest movement into parliament and change future coalition alignments. While the odds are that this will prove another short-lived repository for protest votes, it also tapped into deeper underlying concerns about the functioning of the Polish political system.

An ‘anti-system’ candidate

There were two major surprises in the first round of the Polish presidential election held on May 10th. Incumbent and odds-on favourite Bronisław Komorowski, supported by the ruling centrist Civic Platform (PO), was beaten into second place by Andrzej Duda, the candidate of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, the main opposition grouping, losing by 33.8% to 34.8%. He now faces Mr Duda in a second round-off on May 24th and, although the outcome is difficult to predict, the challenger clearly has the strongest momentum. The other surprise was the stunning success of charismatic social activist and former rock star Paweł Kukiz. In spite of being a relative political novice (he has been a regional councillor since last autumn) and with no party or organised political grouping supporting his candidacy, he finished a very strong third with 20.8% the vote.

Mr Kukiz stood as an independent ‘anti-system’ candidate. His background is as a rebellious rock singer who performed in a band called ‘The Breasts’, best known for their 1992 anti-clerical song ‘The ZChN (Christian-National Union) is coming’. The now-defunct Christian-National Union was a clerical-nationalist party which, as a member of Polish governments in the 1990s, promoted the Catholic Church’s social and political agenda. However, Mr Kukiz also professes a strong commitment to the Catholic faith, arguing that his best known composition was motivated by a desire to protect the Church from abuse by exploitative clerics.

Indeed, in recent years he has been better-known as an advocate of social conservative and patriotic causes. In 2010 Mr Kukiz opposed a ‘EuroPride’ homosexual march in Warsaw and was dismissive of the election in 2011 of Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transsexual parliamentary deputy, as the product of identity politics rather than ability. His musical recordings have also increasingly emphasised national-patriotic themes and he was at one time involved in supporting the annual ‘Independence March’ held on November 11th, the day that Poles celebrate national independence, which has come to be associated with nationalist groupings. However, describing himself ‘a right-winger with a left-wing heart’, Mr Kukiz also has a very eclectic approach towards socio-economic policy: supporting low taxes while positing an active role for the state in tackling poverty, and enjoying close links with a number of prominent trade union activists and leaders.

Opening up the political system

In fact, Mr Kukiz supported Civic Platform in the 2005 and 2007 parliamentary and presidential elections, although he now refers to it as a ‘party of swindlers’ following its failure to introduce UK-style single member electoral constituencies (known by the Polish acronym ‘JOW’), at one time a key element of the party’s programme. Indeed, Mr Kukiz’s strong support for the replacement of Poland’s list-based proportional electoral system with first-past-the-post is his signature issue and was the main focus of his presidential campaign and earlier social activism. Like many on the Polish right, Mr Kukiz argues that politics and the economy in post-communist Poland are dominated by networks whose power stems from the 1989 round table agreement, the elite bargain that led to the collapse of the previous communist regime. This facilitated a peaceful transition to democracy but also prevented a comprehensive reckoning with the communist past thereby allowing a corrupt oligarchy and political class to enrich itself and entrench its power. According to Mr Kukiz, as a consequence of the proportional electoral system that was introduced after 1989, the country is governed by a ‘partocracy’: a cartel of hierarchical political parties dominated by leaders who dictate which candidates appear on electoral lists. This has created a closed political system in which the electoral process is a pure formality, leaving the country weakened and vulnerable to manipulation by external powers.

The aim of introducing single member constituencies is to create a system in which citizens by-pass these leaders by voting for individual candidates rather than parties, thereby holding their elected representatives directly accountable. This, he argues, facilitates the creation of less hierarchical parties that function as non-ideological associative groupings in which individuals debate openly and collaborate for the common good, and where the leader is a ‘manager’ who attempts to find consensus between the various currents of opinion. In fact, although Mr Kukiz sees the introduction of single member constituencies, together with the abolition of state party funding, as critical for changing the relationship between the government and its citizens, it is really a slogan around which he can mobilise a broad and heterogeneous movement to open up and renew the Polish political system more generally.

A repository for young protest voters

Mr Kukiz performed strongly, in spite of the fact that he could not draw upon the resources and organisational infrastructure enjoyed by the main candidates, because he was able to mobilise a substantial segment of Polish society who believe that post-1989 Poland has produced a privileged and complacent ruling elite who are only interested in protecting their own interests. Lacking faith in the current political system, these people appear to be looking for new leaders who, like Mr Kukiz, are more genuine and sincere than the current crop of cynical and calculating career politicians, even if their policies and programmes are not particularly coherent or well thought-through. Moreover, while his ‘wild’ rock star past, and ability to connect with ordinary voters and articulate genuine anger at the perceived dysfunctionality of the political system, burnished his anti-system credentials, Mr Kukiz was also able to portray a more moderate image than other protest candidates.

In fact, Mr Kukiz’s electorate is very diverse, other than the fact that he won the largest share of the vote among students (40.3%) and younger voters (41.4%, compared with only 3.8% among the over-60s). A large number of young Poles are frustrated at an apparent ‘glass ceiling’ of vested interests and corrupt networks stifling their opportunities, and often face an invidious choice between moving abroad to take jobs that fall well short of their abilities and aspirations or remaining in a country which they feel offers them few prospects for the future. Mr Kukiz was clearly able to tap into this frustration. Indeed, one of his arguments for single member constituencies was that it could facilitate the kind of state action required to prevent millions of Poles being forced to emigrate in order to find work, a process which he described graphically as the ‘extermination of the nation’, pointing out that many of them had moved to the UK which has a first-past-the-post electoral system.

What impact will Mr Kukiz have?

As we lack detailed analysis of Mr Kukiz’s electorate, it is difficult to predict whom they will support in the second round run-off. Given that they appeared to be motivated by a desire to see political change rather than continuity, one might expect them to support Mr Duda as the challenger. Moreover, while Mr Kukiz has not openly endorsed either candidate, he made it clear in the past that he did not want to see Mr Komorowski re-elected. However, many of Mr Kukiz’s voters are otherwise disengaged from the political process – 41.8% of those who did not vote in the previous 2010 presidential election supported him as did 46.8% who abstained in the most recent 2011 parliamentary election – so a large proportion of them are unlikely to vote at all in the second round. Moreover, they also include former Civic Platform sympathisers – Mr Kukiz secured 17.3% of Mr Komorowski’s 2010 voters and 15.1% of those who supported the ruling party in 2011 – who may simply have wanted to register a protest vote against the government or were put off by the President’s weak and complacent campaign. Many of these may return to the fold when faced with the prospect of a Law and Justice-backed candidate being elected President. Indeed, in an effort to win over his supporters, the day after the first round results were announced Mr Komorowski promised to initiate a national referendum on introducing single-member constituencies (together with the abolition of state party funding), although Mr Kukiz immediately questioned the authenticity of this move.

Looking beyond the presidential election, the substantial vote for an anti-system candidate like Mr Kukiz shows that the potential protest electorate in Poland is very large. But will his presidential success be a flash-in-the-pan or can he use this momentum to build a new political movement that can achieve success in the more critical autumn parliamentary election? While it is possible, as a one-off, to mobilise a frustrated electorate to cast a protest vote, in order to hold on to his support Mr Kukiz will have to develop a political machine with at least a minimum level of organisational infrastructure, funding and professionalism. This is less of a problem for one candidate standing in a presidential campaign. Mr Kukiz’s charisma and high media profile attracted crowds and generated news coverage, and he was able to develop a rudimentary election machine through a volunteer network based on his pro-electoral reform civic movement, social media and crowdfunding. To contest a parliamentary election he will have to build up political structures that can identify hundreds of local candidates across the whole country and develop grassroots local organisation to campaign on their behalf, all within the space of a few months.

In fact, unless Mr Kukiz proceeds to make a series of spectacular blunders, his stunning presidential election success should give him enough political capital to sustain his support to the autumn election, if not necessarily through the subsequent parliamentary term. Moreover, if a substantial ‘anti-system’ right-wing bloc clustered around Mr Kukiz enters the new parliament this could radically alter possible future coalition configurations. Opinion polls suggest that the two main parties are running neck-and-neck and it is unlikely that either of them will secure an outright majority, so the key to who governs after the next election is likely to be which of them has the greatest coalition potential. Up until now, Law and Justice appeared to have no obvious partners among the main parliamentary groupings which meant that, even if it ‘won’ the election, Civic Platform could still end up remaining in power. However, if Mr Kukiz’s success acts as a precursor to a strong electoral performance by the ‘anti-system’ right this could open up a pathway to power for a Law and Justice-led coalition.

Another false dawn?

Mr Kukiz is the latest in the long line of anti-establishment candidates and parties in post-1989 Poland who have been able to garner the support of protest voters. All of them have found it difficult to maintain their support and, sooner-or-later, faded from the political scene. The real test for anti-establishment political movements is, of course, whether they can hold on to their protest electorate if they ever happen to find themselves in power. Indeed, in the past Law and Justice skilfully marginalised its radical coalition partners and then absorbed much of their electorate. So even if he can sustain his presidential election momentum long enough to secure parliamentary representation, this will just be the beginning of the political challenges that Mr Kukiz faces. However, while the ‘Kukiz phenomenon’ may just fizzle out like previous anti-establishment challenges, the broader social trends that he has tapped into and have formed the basis for his protest movement’s success are likely to remain a longer-lasting feature of the Polish political scene.

Which issues will determine the Polish presidential election?

While the right-wing presidential challenger’s early momentum appears to have stalled, the incumbent’s attempts to portray his opponent as a radical have not been completely successful and a second round of voting now looks likely. Although the current President remains clear favourite to win, a run-off could develop its own dynamic with unpredictable consequences.

Mr Duda catches Mr Komorowski off-guard

The Polish presidential election will be held on May 10th with a second round run-off two weeks later if no candidate secures more than 50% of the votes. The President retains some important constitutional powers such as: the right to initiate legislation, refer bills to the Constitutional Tribunal, nominate a number of key state officials, and, perhaps most significantly, a suspensive veto that requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority to over-turn. However, the President’s competencies are much less significant than those of, say, his French counterpart and real executive power lies with the prime minister. The presidential poll should, therefore, be seen above all as a precursor to the more important autumn parliamentary election which will determine the shape of the Polish political scene for several years to come.

The election campaign has been fast-paced but lacked a dominant theme and the main lines of division between the candidates have changed rapidly. Originally, the incumbent Bronisław Komorowski – who is backed by the ruling centrist Civic Platform (PO) party led by prime minister Ewa Kopacz, and has enjoyed extremely high personal and job approval ratings of over 70% – looked odds-on favourite to win, probably in the first round. However, his campaign got off to slow start, unlike his main challenger Andrzej Duda – candidate of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, the main opposition grouping – whose energetic and dynamic launch caught Mr Komorowski off-guard. Promising an active presidency in contrast to Mr Komorowski’s alleged passivity and complacency, Mr Duda’s campaign has focused on socio-economic issues, including a pledge to repeal the Civic Platform-led government’s extremely unpopular pension reforms that raised the retirement age to 67. Moreover, the fact that Mr Duda’s poll ratings were, initially at least, well below those of his party actually proved advantageous: by simply increasing his name recognition he was able to boost support among the Law and Justice core electorate very rapidly thereby giving his campaign a sense of progress and momentum.

‘Rational Poland’ versus ‘radical Poland’

Once he eventually got into his stride, Mr Komorowski’s core campaign message, based on the slogan ‘Agreement and Security’, was the claim that, unlike his opponents, he was a non-party ‘civic’ candidate who represented political consensus and stability. These qualities were, he argued, essential as Poland had to avoid sharp internal conflicts at a time when the international situation in the region was so unstable. Although events in neighbouring Ukraine no longer dominate the news headlines and have not been a salient campaign issue, they provided an important subtext to Mr Komorowski’s ‘security’ message: that a period of ongoing international tensions was not a time to risk experiments with political novices.

The other main objective of Mr Komorowski’s campaign was to try and draw a contrast between what he termed ‘rational’ and ‘radical’ Poland. In part, this was simply an attempt to revive Civic Platform’s traditional anti-Law and Justice message: that the ruling party is a better guarantor of stability than the confrontational and turbulent style of politics that many voters (rightly or wrongly) associate with Law and Justice and its leader Jarosław Kaczyński. This theme has characterised all of the ruling party’s recent, successful election campaigns. However, it also involved a conscious effort to ‘toxify’ Mr Duda, whom Law and Justice tried to present as a moderate and reasonable centrist, by portraying him as a political extremist.

Mr Komorowski’s supporters tried to do this by highlighting popular socially liberal policies being promoted by the Civic Platform-led government which are opposed by Mr Duda and Law and Justice. These included: ratifying the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing violence against women, and passing a liberal law regulating in-vitro fertilisation. Mr Duda opposed both measures, agreeing with the stance taken by the Catholic Church – which remains an influential political actor in Poland, especially on the political right, and is against the artificial creation of human life. While strongly supporting policies to protect women, Mr Duda argued that the Council of Europe convention was not the right solution as it linked domestic violence to religion and the traditional role of the family while introducing alien concepts into the Polish legal system, such as so-called ‘gender ideology’ which allowed individuals to choose their own gender roles. Mr Komorowski’s supporters took advantage of this to suggest that Mr Duda was failing to stand up for the rights of abused women. They also drew attention to the fact that, in an earlier 2012 parliamentary debate, Mr Duda supported a draft law that would have led to the imprisonment of doctors involved in in-vitro fertilisation (a proposal that Law and Justice has since withdrawn). These moves were also part of a concerted effort by Mr Komorowski to appeal to the centre-left voters who are crucial to him securing victory in the first round. At the same time, the President steered clear of moral-cultural issues where public attitudes were much more socially conservative, such as same-sex civil partnerships.

Mr Komorowski’s supporters also tried to taint Mr Duda with political scandal by linking him to a controversy over the SKOK credit union system founded by the (currently suspended) Law and Justice Senator Grzegorz Bierecki, which has been criticised by the Polish financial regulator. The liberal-left ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ newspaper claimed that, in 2009, Mr Duda played a key role as head of the presidential legal office in persuading the then President Lech Kaczyński (Jarosław’s twin brother) to refer to the Constitutional Tribunal a law that would have placed the SKOK system under the supervision of the regulator. This, they argue, stalled the law’s entry into force thereby allowing bad debts to grow and Mr Bierecki to transfer assets to other accounts. Mr Duda’s supporters argue that these accusations are a politically-motivated smear and he has resisted attempts by Civic Platform deputies to force him to appear before a parliamentary committee to respond to them.

In fact, the ‘SKOK affair’ is too complicated for most voters to disentangle and Mr Duda’s campaign staff diverted public attention away from his alleged involvement by claiming that Mr Komorowski had close personal ties with the management of the bankrupt Wołomin SKOK credit union. For a time, they were also able to re-focus the campaign onto the issue of Polish accession to the Eurozone. Although there is overwhelming public support in Poland for EU membership, most Poles also oppose their country adopting the single currency. While Mr Duda has opposed rapid Eurozone accession, Mr Komorowski sees it as essential for Poland to be part of the EU’s decision-making core and has, on a number of occasions, urged the government to accelerate its preparations; although sensing his vulnerability tried to downplay the issue during the campaign. For sure, Mr Duda found himself on the back-foot as a result of his unpopular stance on the European convention and in-vitro fertilisation, although this may also have helped to strengthen his credibility among ‘religious right’ voters who comprise a core element of Law and Justice’s electoral base.

The rise of the ‘anti-system’ candidates

None of the minor candidates has been able to challenge the two front-runners although whether or not there is a second round run-off will depend on the extent to which they are able to peel away support from Mr Komorowski. Historian and TV personality Magdalena Ogórek – the candidate of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the smaller left-wing opposition grouping – started the campaign in third place with 5-6% but lost support as the election progressed falling back to only 3-4%. Lacking any real political experience, Ms Ogórek has run a poor campaign that has been dogged by controversy from the outset and even appeared to dissociate herself from the Alliance (and, indeed, the left in general), leading to rumours that the party could withdraw support for her before polling day. The other centre-left presidential challenger is the controversial and flamboyant businessman Janusz Palikot whose anti-clerical Palikot Movement (RP), re-branded subsequently as ‘Your Movement’ (TR), came from nowhere to finish third in the most recent 2011 parliamentary election with just over 10% of the vote. However, since then it has seen its support slump and most of its parliamentary caucus defect to other parties, and, although Mr Palikot has run a very energetic campaign, the public appears to have grown weary of his erratic behaviour and constant political zig-zags. Similarly, Adam Jarubas – the deputy leader of the agrarian Polish Peasant Party (PSL), Civic Platform’s junior coalition partner – has failed to transcend his image as a regional politician. Mr Palikot and Mr Jarubas are currently polling around 1-2%.

The two minor contenders who appear to be making the biggest impact are the self-styled ‘anti-system’ candidates: economically libertarian and socially conservative MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, and charismatic rock singer and social activist Paweł Kukiz. Mr Korwin-Mikke is a veteran eccentric of the Polish political scene whose radically Eurosceptic Congress of the New Right (KPN) party came a surprise fourth in last May’s European Parliament (EP) election with 7% of the vote. He was deposed as party leader and forced to set up his own grouping (called ‘KORWIN’) at the start of the year but steadily increased his support to around 4-5% and could come close to repeating his EP election success. However, the real ‘dark horse’ of election appears to be Mr Kukiz who gained momentum during the campaign on a platform of opening up and renewing the Polish political system through the introduction of single member parliamentary electoral constituencies. Mr Kukiz is polling 7-8% and could finish third, using his presidential success as a springboard to launch a new political movement.

Will a second round change the electoral dynamics?

As the campaign enters its final, decisive phase, Mr Komorowski’s support appears to have stabilised at around 40-50%, while Mr Duda has stalled on 25-30%. Although the benefits of Mr Duda’s early up-swing have now dissipated, it still looks increasingly likely (although not certain) that there will be a run-off. Nonetheless, Mr Komorowski remains the very clear favourite to win and a good result for Mr Duda would be securing more than 40% of the vote. However, if the election goes to a second round, the campaign could develop a new dynamic, making the outcome much less predictable; particularly if the two leading candidates go head-to-head in a debate, something that Mr Komorowski has avoided knowing it is a potential game-changer.

Interestingly, the narrowing of Mr Komorowski’s lead has coincided with Civic Platform apparently increasing its support. Having previously shown the two main groupings running neck-and-neck, most polls now suggest that the ruling party has opened up a small lead of around 5%. This is partly due to the Kopacz administration’s leftward tilt on moral-cultural issues which has consolidated its support among socially liberal voters. Moreover, having had its fingers burned earlier this year – when, faced with the prospect of strikes in the key electoral background Silesia region, Mrs Kopacz backed down from an attempt to reform Poland’s ailing coal industry thereby setting off a further wave of social protests – the government has put off introducing any further major reforms until after the election, focusing instead on voter-friendly social and welfare policies. However, the polarisation of party support in the presidential election also appears to have shored up support for Civic Platform. Ironically, while a good presidential election result for Mr Duda would provide Law and Justice with a huge morale boost and valuable momentum in the run-up to the parliamentary poll, it could also help to mobilise the ruling party’s more passive supporters.