For all those of you rightly obsessed with Malta and Bosnia, let’s not forget that Poland has a Presidential election again this year.
These happen every five years. A President may serve only two terms.
So, question. Will President Lech Kaczynski win again?
His first victory in 2005 came when he defeated his centre right opponent Donald Tusk in the second round run-off. The TV debates, where the younger and rather glamorous Tusk was expected to shine ended up working in Kaczynski’s favour:
The Left-populist Andrzej Lepper had been eliminated in the first round, and his (mainly poor) voters were likely to incline to Kaczynski. Instead of trying to woo them in his own direction, Tusk made a serious mistake in excitedly accusing Kaczynski of being the sort of extremist who would attract such low-life support.
This allowed Kaczynski to say something to the effect of "Look, millions of Poles have suffered during Communism and the transition from it. We need to bring these deprived people in to the political mainstream, not insult and marginalise them!"
Kaczynski that night came across as much the bigger man. And won the election handily.
My feeling about Lech Kaczynski is that for personal reasons going back deep into the Solidarnosc period in Poland, he and his twin brother wanted to win the 2005 Parliamentary and Presidential elections more to show that their view of history had been vindicated than to run Poland.
Which helps explain why President L Kaczynski’s ratings have never been especially favourable. He has tended to issue tetchy pronouncements from his office rather than get out and about and engage with people.
In most Western capitals the Kaczynski twins are depicted as ultra conservative Catholic nationalist/Rightists. This is not accurate. What they represent is a respectable but defensively idiosyncratic patriotic/etatist viewpoint.
On one side they defend Poland’s hard-won sovereignty from Russian energy interests, German WW2 property claims and Brussels bureaucrats alike. On the other they make a populist if not socialist appeal to the ‘little man’ as the victim of Poland’s gloomy history, endemic post-communist corruption, and vast impersonal (and usually unnamed) forces outside Poland’s control. They (especially the President) are suspicious of deregulation, free enterprise and the sort of wealthy success which entrepreneurship can create.
This grumpy steady-as-she-goes style is a reasonably successful formula in the Polish context. It has had the outstanding virtue of eliminating Poland’s ‘red-brown’ populists completely from Parliament.
But its natural ceiling is about (at most) some 30% of the vote in normal polling. In the 2005 Presidential elections Kaczynski cruised to victory because he was able to add to that base a lot of post-communist centre left and further left voters too, unnerved by Tusk’s unabashed free market policies..
So who might beat President Kaczynski this time round (assuming that he decides to run – not yet officially confirmed, I think)?
Donald Tusk, now Poland’s Prime Minister, has decided to stay where he is. That has left the way open for his Citizens Platform party to choose their candidate.
Which they have done in an impressively organised vote of party members including Internet voting. Over 20,000 people took part.
Why did the steady Komorowski defeat the younger and dynamic Sikorski so easily?
Partly because Komorowski has been a continuous presence on the Polish scene for so long, whereas Sikorski has spent a lot of his life in the UK and USA.
And perhaps because party members suspected that a Presidential campaign between Kaczynski and Sikorski might play to the strengths of Kaczynski, allowing him to play the Experience and Reliable cards too strongly.
Komorowski by contrast offers both those qualities in generous quantities, but with a much better record than the President of smoothing over problems and not seeming to enjoy truculent political confrontation at home and abroad for its own sake.
Which is why the polls currently have Komorowski a firm favourite to beat Kaczynski, although no doubt the gap will narrow somewhat as the race develops.
So President Kaczynski has a difficult decision. To run again in very unfavourable circumstances and risk an embarrassingly large defeat? Or to stand down, but with no-one from his party likely to have a better chance to beat Komorowski?
As for Radek Sikorski, his ratings with the public are better than his ratings within the Citizens Platform party. He is still on the right side of 50 – he has many more chances to come and surely will take one of them.
Such as in 2020 when President Komorowski’s second term ends. If he is ready to wait that long?