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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » June 3, 2015
Politics & Society
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Conservative Challenger Elected Polish President
June 3, 2015   
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Conservative challenger Andrzej Duda narrowly beat incumbent Bronisław Komorowski in Poland’s presidential elections May 24, delivering a major blow to the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party ahead of a parliamentary ballot in the fall.

Duda’s second-round win raised expectations in the right-wing opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party of a victory this October that would allow it to sweep away eight years of PO government, dramatically altering Poland’s political landscape.

Duda, 43, who was picked by Law and Justice to run for president even though he was largely unknown before his campaign, won 51.55 percent of the vote. komorowski, who hails from the PO, scored 48.45 percent. Turnout was 55.34 percent.

Earlier Komorowski—who had regularly been named in opinion polls as Poland’s most trusted politician—suffered a shock defeat in the first round of the presidential elections May 10. He scored 33.77 percent of the vote, behind Duda, on 34.76 percent.

Paweł Kukiz, an ex-rock star running as an independent, anti-establishment candidate, finished third at the time, with 20.80 percent of the vote, causing the biggest sensation in Polish politics in years.

The remaining contenders had to settle for single-digit support. Radical right-wing politician turned Eurodeputy Janusz Korwin-Mikke was fourth with 3.26 percent of the vote, ahead of Magdalena Ogórek, a hopeful supported by the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), with 2.38 percent.

Adam Jarubas from the Polish People’s Party (PSL), the junior partner in the coalition government , finished sixth with 1.60 percent, and Janusz Palikot, leader of the Your Movement grouping, was seventh with 1.42 percent. Each of the other four contenders received less than 1 percent of the vote. Turnout in the first round was 48.96 percent.

Just a month ago, a Komorowski defeat was regarded as well-nigh impossible by the governing center-right Civic Platform party. When the election campaign was getting under way at the beginning of this year, PO politicians hoped that Komorowski would secure reelection in the first round of voting without the need for a runoff. Today, many commentators say this was arrogance that, combined with a sluggish, passive presidential campaign, produced a shock defeat for Komorowski.

Contrary to what some expected, voters were not swayed by Komorowski’s strong performance in two televised debates after the first round. Political scientists say the outcome of the runoff was likely determined by voters who supported Kukiz in the first round; some 60 percent of these voters supported Duda this time even though Kukiz himself had not appealed to his supporters to vote for either Komorowski or Duda in the second round.

The unexpected success of Duda sparked a flurry of comments abroad. Western European politicians suggested his victory could signal a change in Polish policy towards the EU, especially as there is no lack of staunch Euroskeptics among PiS members. The party’s leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, had repeatedly called for a more independent foreign policy, often citing as an example the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban, who has long been out of favor with those in power in most EU countries. The alarm in Brussels is therefore not surprising.

Meanwhile, Russian politicians seem to have forgotten that the new Polish president-elect hails from a political party that has been repeatedly calling for a tougher stance on Russia.

PiS has even accused Moscow of masterminding a plot to kill President Lech Kaczyński, who died along with 95 others in the April 10, 2010 crash of the Polish presidential plane near the western Russian city of Smolensk.

Vladimir Putin was among the first world leaders to congratulate Duda on his victory. He said he hoped that “building constructive ties between Russia and Poland, based on the principles of neighborly relations and mutual respect for each other’s interests, will help strengthen security and stability in Europe.”

Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote on Twitter, “The Poles have gotten rid of Komorowski; it turns out that hating Russia is not enough to win an election—this is a lesson for his counterparts in neighboring countries.”
W. Ż.

Andrzej Duda, 43, was born in the southern Polish city of Cracow. His father and mother are both professors at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow. His father is a professor of engineering sciences and his mother is a professor of chemical engineering.

In 1996, Duda graduated in law from the Faculty of Law and Administration at Cracow’s Jagiellonian University. In February 1997, he began working at his alma mater as a teacher—at the faculty from which he graduated. In January 2005, he defended his doctoral dissertation focusing on Polish administrative law.

On Aug. 1, 2006, Duda was appointed deputy justice minister—under Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro—in a government led by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party. He was responsible for new legislation, international cooperation, and the computerization of courts and prosecutor’s offices. He held the job until Nov. 15, 2007, when he became a member of the State Tribunal following a vote by the lower house of parliament.

On Jan. 16, 2008. Duda became undersecretary of state at the President’s Office under President Lech Kaczyński. He held this position until July 5, 2010 when Bronisław Komorowski was elected the new president after Kaczyński’s death in a presidential plane crash near Smolensk, Russia.

In 2010, Duda ran, without success, for mayor of Cracow.

In the 2011 parliamentary elections, running on a PiS ticket, Duda won nearly 80,000 votes in Cracow and became a member of the lower house. He resigned in 2014 after being elected to the European Parliament.

In December 2014, he was officially fielded by PiS as a presidential candidate.

Since 1994, Duda has been married to Agata Kornhauser, daughter of Julian Kornhauser, a well-known poet and literary critic. His wife is a German studies graduate and teaches German in a high school in Cracow. Duda’s 20-year-old daughter, Kinga, is a first-year law student at the Jagiellonian University.
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