President Duda, going the Polish way
Results from Poland’s presidential elections signal a change of direction for Polish politics, but President-elect Andrzej Duda, a surprise winner, will need to look beyond Poland if he wants to do things ‘the Polish way’, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
Mr Duda of the Law and Justice party beat the incumbent and favourite, Bronisław Komorowski in the elections on Sunday, May 24.
Poland's political landscape is shaped by two larger parties, PO, the Civic Platform party, and PiS, the Law and Justice party. The PO is a Christian Democrat party, which largely follows economically and socially liberal politics, and which has a broadly international outlook. It is a member of the European People’s Parties (EPP) group aligned to the German CDU.
The PiS is a Christian social, national conservative party. It tends to follow a socially conservative and economically protectionist form of politics, with some populist social elements. The PiS is aligned to the British Conservative Party in the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in the European Parliament.
Poland has lived through a sustained period of steady growth - almost unique among European countries - largely due to difficult reforms implemented some 20 years ago. It has been governed by a PO-led coalition since 2007, although PiS held the presidency until President Lech Kaczynski was killed in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, in 2010.
Mr Kaczynski was succeeded by Bronisław Komorowski of the PO.
The powers of the President of Poland are not that great, although he has the power to veto legislation which can then be overruled by a three-fifths majority. So the change of president may not seem so significant. However, this result is more a reflection of the weak standing of the PO governing party than of Bronisław Komorowski himself.
These results assume much greater significance for the direction of Polish politics over the next decade because elections to the Senate and Poland’s parliament, the Sejm, are held in October 2015.
President-elect Duda's electoral programme included high-cost promises such as lowering the pension age and maintaining an uneconomic coal industry. These will challenge Poland's prudent fiscal policies and could overstretch the budget, leading to higher deficits.
It is ironic that an incoming president who won on the rhetoric of leaving the European mainstream to go the ‘Polish way’, should have made promises which seem more akin to joining the European mainstream of exaggerated deficits and costly social protection.
Mr Duda’s description of the ‘Polish way’ also suggests Poland may become less outward-looking, focussing on its own security and that of its neighbour Ukraine. But it seems unlikely it can achieve this without developing stronger ties with Nato and the US, particularly if the approach is underpinned by growing anti-Russian sentiment.
Perhaps the only way Mr Duda and PiS can go the ‘Polish way’ is to engage the support of others. This may mean developing a stronger alliance with the UK to reform the European Union so it gives greater autonomy to member states; and by strengthening links with the US and its Nato partners to protect Poland from potential aggression from the East.
Poland had made huge economic and social progress over the past two decades through market-oriented reforms and some political dexterity. It is now a key member of the EU and Nato. It is vital that populist and erratic politics do not stall or undermine further progress.
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