Polish Toledo

This blog is associated with www.polishtoledo.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Poland's new president Andy Duda puts ultra conservative PiS (Law & Justice) Party back in the presidential palace.

PO (Civic Platform) Party had been in power for nearly a decade and kept Poland moving forward in terms of economic growth. Even through the financial meltdown of 2008, Poland was the only EU country not to have a down year during the economic meltdown.

During this decade of success, Poland caught the attention and respect from all member states of the European Union and the former Prime Minister Donald Tusk was tapped to become the President of the European Council. The departure of Tusk elevated Ewa Kopacz to the PM's chair. She was not a successful as her predecessor in leading the PO and garnering support and respect from the public at large. Even so, the incumbent president  Bronisław Komorowski felt, based on PO's record, his chances of being re-elected was exceedingly strong.

Asleep at the wheel Komorowski lead a lazy campaign going into the first round of votes. Adding to his problem was the entry of independent former rock star Paweł Kukiz who captured 21% of first round voting mostly supported by younger voters who felt not enough attention was shown to their specific problems in Polish society thereby forcing the run off between Duda and Komorowski. 

Although the economy is generally on a good footing, younger Poles still face a variety of situations that they disparately feel need fixing. Wage parity with other EU countries to the west and the inability of Poland to provide meaningful employment at the level of their skill set fast enough to satisfy their desire were among the needs of millennial demographic voters.

Duda won 51.55% of the vote, while incumbent Komorowski took 48.45%.

Duda, a 43-year-old conservative, captured the imagination of many voters with promises for change including more social benefits and entitlements including stopping the rise in retirement age. The question is, where will the money come from to support more progressive programs for the citizens.

The new president has repeatedly said he wants to place higher taxes on foreign based banks and businesses giving home-grown enterprises a better chance at survival in an increasingly competitive marketplace. But, since the end of Communist rule the new free market model in Poland has benefited greatly from the entry of well run retail chains, industrial companies and banks based in western Europe countries, which steadily raises the quality of life for Poles.

Mr Duda, a eurosceptic 43-year-old lawyer and protege of the titular head of PiS Jarosław Kaczyński former PM and twin brother of Lech who died along with several other top Polish leaders in the Smolensk air crash tragedy in 2010. 

Part of the PiS platform speaks to the need to make wholesale changes to purge Poland of corruption and the legacy of its communist past. PiS also fosters a great deal of nationalism which during the administration of the Kaczyński twins created a fairly high amount of tension between Poland and its historical adversaries Germany, Russia and others. Some political observers fear a repeat of the political instability and fraught foreign relations that bedeviled the country the last time Law and Justice was in power.

Going to the extreme, Adam Michnik, a prominent Solidarity activist who was imprisoned by Poland's communist government, said he feared Law and Justice's success could pose a threat to democracy in the country.

Michnik's warning was echoed by Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, a former Polish prime minister, who said a Law and Justice victory swaddled the country in "all the prejudices and obsessions of the Fourth Republic".

Although much power in Poland rests with the government, the president oversees foreign policy, and he can set its tone with visits and speeches. Describing himself as the "spiritual heir" to Kaczynski,  Duda has signaled that he is willing to take an assertive role in foreign policy and one reflecting his predecessor's nationalistic and Eurosceptic character.

"Today we have the right to speak in the European Union with a firm voice," he said while on the campaign trail. "It's time to step out of flow of mainstream foreign policies. We need to regain our strength."

Along with riling Brussels, a Eurosceptic stance could put Duda on a collision course with the current Polish government, which is dominated by the center-right Civic Platform party that has supported the European consensus.

Duda's election could, however, lead to an improvement in relations with the UK. His victory comes just days before David Cameron is due to visit Warsaw to outline his case for European reform, and, like the British prime minister, Poland's president-elect opposes any steps towards further EU integration.

Mr Duda has also said he wants to see a permanent NATO presence in Poland due to what he perceives as the threat posed by a re-assertive Russia.