Presidential election in Poland heads for run-off

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Poland's presidential election is headed for a run-off after neither of the two main candidates - acting president and parliament speaker Bronislaw Komorowski from the liberal-conservative Civic Platform (PO) or former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the right-wing Law and Justice Party and twin brother of the late President Lech Kaczynski - secured a majority of the vote on June 20.

Poland's presidential election is headed for a run-off after neither of the two main candidates - acting president and parliament speaker Bronislaw Komorowski from the liberal-conservative Civic Platform (PO) or former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the right-wing Law and Justice Party and twin brother of the late President Lech Kaczynski - secured a majority of the vote on June 20. Komorowski received 41% of the vote against Kaczynski's 36%. They will face off in a second round of voting on July 4.

The outcome of this election (and the country's future) will largely be decided by young and ambitious Poles, who seek a liberal Poland and have a leaning towards left progressivism. They will have to choose between two elders (Komorowski is 58, Kaczynski is 61), who both dislike Polish communists and the left in general, to put it mildly, and who have both shown varying degrees of hostility toward Russia and many of the liberties valued by Western democracies. The election will be decided by the supporters of the candidate who placed third with 14% of the vote, Grzegorz Napieralski, 36, the leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). It would not be too much of a stretch to call his party the successor of the Polish communist party, the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP).

Politics in Poland is now inextricably linked with the April 10 plane crash outside Smolensk, which killed President Lech Kaczynski and other senior officials. The tragedy moved the election up four months and brought Napieralski into the race. Jerzy Szmajdzinski, the original SLD candidate and the deputy speaker of the parliament, was also killed in the crash. When the campaign started, Napieralski had only three percent of the vote, but in the first round he received almost 14%.

Such surges in popularity speak volumes about the mood of the electorate. They are a wake-up call to the ruling parties that the younger generation is dissatisfied with their policies. The SLD's voter base mostly consists of young Poles (between the ages of 25 and 40) with a higher or vocational education. They seek a more liberal society (including women's rights and the rights of sexual minorities) and a smaller role for the Catholic Church in Poland.

The battle for Napieralski's votes has produced some amazing political metamorphoses. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who has always been more abrasive than Lech, is now showing incredible political moderation in all things, especially his stance toward Russia. A couple of days ago he even told RIA Novosti that as president one of his first official visits will be to Russia. "I hope that these relations will develop into normal contacts and finally into a mutually beneficial relationship." He added that he misses the days of the cultural exchanges between Russia and Poland in the 1960s.

The political fault lines in today's Poland are religious faith and the age-old division between conservative, rural Poland and modern, urban Poland. The right-conservative Law and Justice Party has always relied on the backing of rural voters and devout Catholics over 40. They recoil from the liberties of urban Poles (and other Europeans) and any deviations from religious orthodoxy, the foundation of Polish identity, as they understand it. Civic Platform is a party of urban voters who support moderate social and economic liberalism, a social economy, European rights and freedoms, and full integration with the European Union, among other things.

Napieralski said he will consider which candidate to endorse in the run-off. However, it is clear who his left democrats are leaning toward. It is hard to imagine them voting for the rural, religious and conservative Law and Justice candidate on July 4, especially after the most famous Polish film director, rebel and philosopher Andrzej Wajda said the other day that a vote for Kaczynski is a vote for "the war of Poles against Poles." Wajda is a solid supporter of Civic Platform, led by current Prime Minister Donald Tusk. It appears that on July 4, Poland will bid farewell to family rule and its excesses.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's alone and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) 

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