++ UPDATE ++

Haha never believe opinion polls. According to the exit polls Duda has won the first round (35% or so) with Komorowski failing into second place (32%). Kukiz scored a mighty 20%.

A huge battle will ensue for the second round run-off in two weeks’ time…

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Today the main election of the week takes place, the latest Presidential elections in Poland. Once again these elections fall in the same year as the Parliamentary elections, as the ‘normal’ cycle of elections was thrown off course by the death of former President Lecz Kaczynski in the Smolensk disaster.

The current President is Bronislaw Komorowski of the ‘centre-right’ Polish party Citizens Platform. He is the favourite to win, running on the ‘steady as she goes’ ticket: Rational Poland, not Radical Poland!

His main challenger is the younger Andrzej Duda from Law and Justice, pushing a lively message of personal energy and conservative populist reform.

No-one else has a chance, although one independent candidate, singer Pawel Kukiz, is doing well on one issue: changing the Polish voting system (currently based on proportional representation slates of candidates) to something like the UK’s first-past-the-post system. He argues that the current system removes completely any sense of direct political responsibility towards voters, and he is probably right. His success is not coming from a clamour for electoral reform as such, but rather from cleverly mobilising a ‘stuff the politicians’ feeling that is always there in any healthy election.

The main ‘centre-left’ candidate is Magdalena Ogorek whose tragic surname means ‘cucumber’. She is doing hopelessly badly, barely scraping 5%. This may lead to the post-communist Left not even getting into Parliament in the autumn, a major shift and arguably a step forward.

Here (in Polish but accessible to those few people who do not speak Polish via the marvels of Google Translator) is a good summary of where each candidate stands on various core issues.

The Polish polls haha have shown Komorowski’s previously overwhelming lead steadily eroding. He is now at around 40%, with Duda edging to or even beating 30%. Kukiz has come from zero to approaching a startling 20%.

If (as is likely) no candidate gets 50% of the vote in the first round today, there will be a second round run-off in two weeks’ time. The question then will be how far if at all Duda can close the gap on Komorowski by picking up votes from Kukiz and the also-rans. What will the two remaining candidates offer (if anything) on voting reform or wider issues of operational political accountability?

Quite interesting. My guess? Komorowski by a small but unarguable margin in Round Two. Duda then nicely placed to be Prime Minister or President at some point down the road

Last week I took part in a BNE Intellinews discussion on Poland’s Transition. Here is a rather condensed(!) account of some of my points:

Many would say it [Poland’s post-Soviet transition] is not a success. Soviet war memorials in every town, a massive rise in debt, 12% unemployment despite three million emigrants, and a continuing brain drain,” said Crawford, questioning how successful the transition has been. [Note: I was not in fact questioning anything, but rather simply reading out some snarky Tweets to enliven the proceedings.]

Demographics aside, Poland’s growth numbers “are impressive by any standards“, Crawford made a point of adding.

Poland’s economy in the grand scheme is not huge. It is roughly a third of the size of Spain’s, but that’s got nothing to do with Poland – it’s the cost of communism. If you have 2% growth over 50-to-60 years you’re going to be much richer than if you have 2-3% growth over 20 years – but Poland is catching up,” Crawford said.

That’s the point. Poland is busy making up for lost time. And the fact that these elections are taking place 100% normally and 100% fairly with a good range of candidates freely debating a good range of issues is a striking moral achievement as much as anything else. The process goes to show just how revolting and utterly wasteful all those dreary communist decades were. This picture has been getting much derision from Poles on my Twitter feed. Good