Lech Kaczynski is the new Polish President

I’m a bit late reporting on this, but I couldn’t blog this week. Anyway, somewhat surprisingly, Lech Kaczynski of the Law and Justice party has been elected as the new Polish President last Sunday

Warsaw, Poland (AHN) – In a surprising ending, Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski has been elected the new president of Poland, winning by over 9 percentage points over his rival, Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk. After confirmation of his win, Kaczynski quickly called on Sunday for a quick completion of government talks between his conservative party and its pro-business ally.

Until Sunday, Tusk had led in preliminary polls by the same amount of points, with the outcome of the election coming as a shock to most Poles who predicted a win for Tusk.

“Society has made a decision and this should be a signal for the government,” Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Lech’s identical twin, told private television channel TVN24.

Donald Tusk had been leading in the polls, and was the favorite of the younger generation, but his ideas for free market reforms and cutbacks of welfare programs didn’t go over all that well with older Poles. Voter turnout was just above 50 percent, and it seems that those who were skeptical of Tusk’s reforms were more motivated to vote than his supporters. Kaczynski’s and Tusk’s parties will have to come to an agreement, though, if they want to form a coalition:

According to analysts, coming to a compromise between the Law and Justice and Civic Platform parties may become difficult because the presidential race underlined deep differences between the parties on how far the country should go with market reforms and how much welfare it can afford.

Their value systems differ on more than just economics:

Tusk’s opponent in the runoff is Mayor Lech Kaczynski of Warsaw, who leans left when it comes to social spending and the welfare state but is a deeply conservative Roman Catholic outspokenly opposed to abortion, divorce and homosexuality.

… Tusk stands for a kind of modern secular liberalism, a nonjudgmental, morally relativist stance of the sort that might be found, say, in a Paris café or on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He is also an economic liberal in the European sense of the term, a believer, like Milton Friedman or Ronald Reagan, in the stultifying effect of too much government, the liberating power of the market.

Kaczynski, on the other hand, comes across to many Poles as more steeped in Polish tradition. He is religious, outspokenly nationalistic, a mayor who banned the annual gay pride parade in Warsaw.

How much of that difference is based on substance, rather than just a show put on for the elections is in doubt, though, as this article from the IHT also states. Either way it seems to have been a pretty tough election campaign, including strident personal attacks.

Both Kaczynski and Tusk are veterans of the Solidarity movement, and vowed to finally put an end to the post-communists’ still entrenched position in the country’s institutions. Kaczynski also has been demanded tribunals for Poland’s former communist rulers and their lackeys.

Both candidates are staunchly pro-American so there won’t be any great changes to the present government in this regard. Lech Kaczynski has announced a more assertive stance towards both Germany and Russia, so neighborly relations might suffer somewhat in the near future. More on that in some later posts; since the new President has already signaled a more moderate attitude towards Germany than he had adopted during the election campaign, it also isn’t quite clear how he is going to actually behave yet. One issue that definitely is going to become contentious is the announced gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, since it will be built under the Baltic Sea instead of going through Polish territory. Some critics even have compared the deal to the Hitler-Stalin pact, a pretty ridiculous case of hyperbole, even if the criticism is somewhat understandable.

Kaczynski as a social conservative and an economic liberal, almost to the point of socialism (the Western rather than its Eastern bloc variety) isn’t exactly my cup of tea, and I’m a somewhat skeptical about his ability to be an effective President. Poland has the highest unemployment in the EU at about 19 percent, so the country badly needs more pro-market policies, which Tusk had wanted to introduce but Kaczynski has expressly eschewed, at least so far. Even so he might turn out to be a pleasant surprise yet, especially as far as free market reforms are concerned.

5 thoughts on “Lech Kaczynski is the new Polish President”

  1. Doesn’t the anticipated pipeline route imply that it will run through Poland’s (or Sweden’s) economic zone in the Baltic? So can’t Poland still block the project or demand a cut of revenues?

  2. “exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – the UNCLOS (Part V) defines the EEZ as a zone beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea in which a coastal state has: sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents, and winds; jurisdiction with regard to the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations, and structures; marine scientific research; the protection and preservation of the marine environment; the outer limit of the exclusive economic zone shall not exceed 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured”

    It doesn’t seem to me that Russia and Germany can connect a pipeline without going through someone else’s economic zone (not territorial waters).

  3. The Polish government and press are pretty mad about this. Merkel won’t be nearly as friendly with Putin as Schröder was, so that might calm them down. It’s not as if it were a conspirarcy, we need thispipeline, and since it won’t be enough for our energy needs there will some others going through their territory.

Comments are closed.