A tale of two Polands

Liberal Bronisław Komorowski is Poland's new president after defeating his conservative rival Jarosław Kaczyński in an election that reflected great social divisions. The national press argues that Komorowski will have to be careful in carrying out reforms and securing Poland's future in the EU.

Published on 5 July 2010 at 10:39
Poland's new President Bronislaw Komorowski leaves after addressing supporters in Warsaw on July 4, 2010

Poland has a new president - Bronisław Komorowski, candidate of the ruling conservative Civic Platform party (PO). The result only became clear early on 5 July with the State Electoral Commission’s announcing returns from 95 percent of polling stations. With 52.6 percent of the vote, Komorowski beat his rival Jarosław Kaczyński, of the right wing Law and Justice (PiS), who won 47.4 percent. A few hours previously, with results from half the country’s polling stations counted, the picture looked different, with Kaczyński in the lead. In the middle of the Polish holiday season, a 54.8 percent turnout (where turnouts are generally low - highest 68.2 percent) is considered a good result.

Civic Platform has lost its alibi

In line with expectations, rural and poorer regions, as well as elderly voters, plumped for the conservative Kaczyński while Komorowski triumphed in larger urban areas (see electoral map here). Rzeczpospolita writes that despite Komorowski’s victory it is Kaczyński who has “achieved success in the political sense” because his strong performance along with growing support for the PiS show that the country’s two major political forces find themselves “evenly balanced.” Civic Platform “has no lifelong guarantee of remaining in power,” the conservative daily notes.

Now that Civic Platform holds both the presidency and the Prime Minister’s office, Civic Platform has “lost its alibi for not going through with necessary reforms”, notes Rzeczpospolitainits post-election analysis. Under the presidency of the late Lech Kaczyński , a shake-up of the health system was blocked. Further reforms to the health system, public finances, and the farmers' combined health and retirement insurance aren’t likely to be popular either, the Warsaw daily hints, suggesting that Kaczyński’s narrow defeat may anticipate his party’s victory in the 2011 general election. This is echoed by liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza, warning PM Tusk’s party that “unless it shows that it is a reformist party, open to the cultural postulates of European democracy – it will lose the next election.”

Nothing sensible for Poland or Poles

The Sunday vote has shown that Poland is an evenly split society, argues Adam Michnik, Gazeta’s editor in chief. Poland’s victorious half is one that “sees the country’s future in the EU – as a country of democracy, pluralism, a free-market economy and the rule of law.” While the losing side - an “authoritarian right represented by Jarosław Kaczyński and his camp… is dangerous for democracy in Poland.” Michnik notes that the traditional left/right divide no longer reflects what is happening in Central and Eastern Europe and in some Western European countries where a “new wave of populism under various ideological banners” is gaining increasing public favour.

So is there any chance of the two Polands merging? wonders Tomasz Lis, editor in chief of opinion weekly Wprost, and when will “playing on this division cease to be politically profitable?” The answer, he laments, is not anytime soon, because “the presidential campaign has not moved us forward, hasn’t brought anything sensible to Poland or Poles.” Lis appeals to his compatriots once and for all to stop wasting “time - a factor vital in any democracy.” It is high time bold reforms in the public finances, health care, or farmers’ pensions were carried, and the political divide between rich and poor Poland bridged. As Michnik notes, the strong support for Jarosław Kaczyński shows that “many Poles still don’t feel at home in their own country.” The new president’s greatest challenge will be to change this.

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