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Polish president concedes defeat to rival after damning exit polls

Conservative Andrzej Duda claims surprise victory in second round of elections

Miro Guzzini , AFP , Reuters , Monday 25 May 2015
Andrzej Duda
Andrzej Duda (C), presidential candidate of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), celebrates with wife Agata (R) and their daughter Kinga in Warsaw, Poland May 24, 2015.(Photo:Reuters)
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Incumbent Polish President Bronisław Komorowski conceded defeat to his conservative rival Andrzej Duda late Sunday after an exit poll showed a considerable advantage to his opponent.

According to AFP, the poll gave Duda the presidency with 53% of the vote, as opposed to Komorowski’s 47%. While official results are yet to be released, Komorowski has already congratulated his opponent and wished him a “successful presidency”, Reuters reported.

Komorowski, leader of the centrist liberal Civic Platform party, was elected president in 2010 in the wake of the “Smolensk disaster”, where the President of Poland Lech Kaczyński and 89 other high officials died in a plane crash.

His opponent Andrzej Duda belongs to the conservative Law and Justice party, which was led by the late Lech Kaczyński and is now dominated by the twin brother of the deceased President, Jarosław.

The result of the election is expected to weigh heavily on the upcoming parliamentary elections in October, according to Reuters. So far, Law and Justice has a slim majority in the polls, which would give them full control of the legislative procedure in addition to the presidency.


Duda’s expected policy

Duda clearly sees himself as a political heir of Lech Kaczyński, Wiktor Szary reported for Reuters, and he is expected to run socially conservative and nationalist policies in line with his idol. He is considered less business-friendly than Komorowski, as he wants to limit foreign ownership in the banking sector. He further wishes to convert mortgages denominated in Swiss francs to Polish złotys at historical exchange rates, which in practice would mean devastating losses for Polish banks, Szary added.

Support for Duda’s candidacy has also come as a result of widespread frustration at Komorowski’s economic policies. While the Civic Platform tenure did see considerable economic growth and rising salaries, many Poles are complaining that this growth has passed them by.

"They create good living conditions for some social groups, who have their businesses, and not for ordinary citizens", Zbigniew Pela, a railway worker and Duda supporter, told Reuters on Sunday.

Another key concern of Duda’s presidency will be Poland’s foreign policy. Civic Platform’s foreign policy has so far been oriented towards a strengthening of ties with Germany and increased European integration, Szary writes. The culmination of this strategy came with the appointment of Civic Platform’s leader and Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, as President of the European Council in December last year.

Duda has hinted that he wishes to lessen Poland’s ties to the EU, NATO and Germany, favoring instead an increased focus on “national sovereignty” and on stronger ties with Poland’s neighbors in Central Europe, according to Ola Cichowlas. Reporting for Reuters before the election, she noted that Moscow had been highly critical of Komorowski’s stance on Ukraine, as the occupation of Crimea stirred up considerable historical anxiety in Poland.

In this light, it is perhaps not surprising that Russian President Putin was among the first to congratulate the president-elect. According to AFP, he expressed hope that “constructive ties” might be built between Poland and Russia in the future.

However, any such “constructive ties” will have to pass the test of Polish national resentment. Duda has been noted to defend a highly nationalist version of Polish history, Cichowlas writes, and the memories of the partitions of Poland by Germany, Russia and Austria in the 18th century, as well as the excesses of Soviet occupation during World War II have been revived by the current crisis in Ukraine.

The most infamous incident is no doubt the execution of about 22,000 Poles, most of them military and police officers, by the Soviet secret police in the Katyń forest in 1940. It was on a commemoration visit for this event that the Polish Presidential plane crashed in 2010.

If the election results are confirmed, Andrzej Duda is expected to take office on August 6.

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