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.