In Digest, Europe - East

May 27, 2015. Two news article are enclosed.

Andrzej Duda victory in Polish presidential election signals shift to right

Associated Press, Monday, May 25, 2015

WARSAW–Polish voters have sent a strong signal that they are unhappy with the country’s direction, apparently unseating the president despite years of fast economic growth and unprecedented stability.

Andrzej Duda, winner of 2015 Poland presidential election (Czarek Sokołowski, AP )

Andrzej Duda, winner of 2015 Poland presidential election (Czarek Sokołowski, AP )

According to an exit poll, challenger Andrzej Duda, a rightwing member of the European parliament, won the presidential election on Sunday with 52% of the vote to 48% for the incumbent, Bronislaw Komorowski. Official results are expected late on Monday.

If Duda’s win is confirmed, it could herald a political shift in the European Union’s sixth largest economy, a nation that has been able to punch above its weight in Europe without belonging to the 19-nation eurozone. Poland’s influence is underlined by the fact that one of its own, Donald Tusk, now heads the European Council in Brussels.

The changing political mood could signal a return to power of Duda’s conservative Law and Justice party in parliamentary elections this autumn. That would cement Poland’s turn to the right, create a new dynamic with other European countries and possibly usher in a less welcoming climate for foreign investors.

Law and Justice presents itself as a protector of those who have not benefited from the capitalist transformation and as a defender of national interests abroad. It is staunchly pro-US, but has a sometimes defiant stance towards other European partners, which has created tensions in the past with the EU and neighbouring Germany.

Duda says he wants new taxes on the foreign-owned banks and supermarkets to protect Polish interests, suggesting an approach similar to that of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán. He also wants banks returned to Polish control.

Jacek Kucharczyk, president of the Institute of Public Affairs, an independent thinktank in Warsaw, said Poland’s relations with other European powers would now depend on whether Duda sticks to the relatively moderate agenda he campaigned on or embraces his party leader’s more combative foreign policy stance.

“That would be a nightmare scenario for Polish foreign policy, because it would mean getting into conflicts with Germany and anti-EU stunts and aggressive rhetoric towards Russia,” Kucharczyk said. “We are in for a bumpy ride. The only question is how bumpy it will be.”

Party supporters have been rejoicing since Duda’s apparent victory was announced late on Sunday. They say the party will do much more to help the many Poles who have not benefited from the country’s economic growth, those who face low wages and job insecurity despite a quarter of a century of growth. In his campaign speeches, Duda often spoke of the more than 2 million Poles who left in the past decade to seek better economic opportunities abroad.

Supporters also say Duda will do more to fight for the country’s economic interests. “Andrzej Duda is a responsible person and will be a responsible president,” said Zbigniew Ziobro, who was justice minister when the Law and Justice party led the government. “He will fulfil Poland’s obligations toward Nato and the European Union, but he will definitely put more stress on Poland’s interests.”

The rise of Duda marks a generational shift in Polish politics. He would be the sixth president since the fall of communism in 1989, but, at 43, the first who is too young to have been a major participant in the 1980s struggle between communist authorities and the Solidarity opposition movement. He apparently won a significant share of young voters on Sunday.

Duda said on Monday he planned to leave Law and Justice, following a tradition of Polish presidents breaking formal ties with their parties to represent the entire nation.

Komorowski left the pro-EU Civic Platform party when he won the presidency in 2010, but remained closely tied to it. Observers say this was a key factor in his undoing, with voters punishing him for government corruption scandals and unpopular measures, such as a rise in the retirement age.

* * *

Poland on ‘the velvet road to dictatorship’ after Andrzej Duda wins presidential elections

By Matthew Day, The Telegraph (UK), May 25, 2015

WARSAW–Poland is on “the velvet road to dictatorship” following the victory of nationalist leader Andrzej Duda in Sunday’s presidential elections, a respected former anti-communist dissident warned on Monday.

Mr Duda, a Eurosceptic 43-year-old lawyer belonging to the socially conservative Law and Justice party, defeated Bronislaw Komorowski with 51.5 per cent of the vote, having campaigned on pledges of greater welfare spending and a reduction in the retirement age.

His party has spoken of the need to make wholesale changes to purge Poland of corruption and the poisonous legacy of the communist system that it claims still plagues the country, creating a “Fourth Republic”.

Adam Michnik, a prominent Solidarity activist who was imprisoned by Poland’s communist government, said he feared Law and Justice’s success could pose a threat to democracy in the country.

Mr Duda’s surprise win was a “radical change to the political landscape”, warned Mr Michnik, who is also editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s bestselling newspaper.

The party has long claimed that Poland avoided a true revolution with the end of communism in 1989, and instead communists were allowed to remain in place for the sake of social cohesion.

It believes that this has had a detrimental effect on the country, and so it has called for a deep cleansing process that critics claim is both neurotic and a danger to civil rights.

Mr Michnik’s warning was echoed by Wlodimierz Cimoszewicz, a former Polish prime minister, who said a Law and Justice victory swaddled Poland in “all the prejudices and obsessions of the Fourth Republic”.

The claims reflected anxiety felt by some in Poland that Mr Duda’s victory could herald a repeat of the political instability and fraught foreign relations that bedevilled Poland the last time Law and Justice dominated both parliament and the presidential palace.

• Polish presidential election: legalise child pornography and scrap benefits, promises candidate

Lech Kaczynski, one of the party’s founders, was president while his twin brother Jaroslaw served as prime minister in an unusual political double act.

A divisive figure in Polish politics, Mr Kaczynski enjoyed prickly and difficult relations with both Germany and Russia before dying in an air crash in western Russia in 2010.

Describing himself as the “spiritual heir” to Mr Kaczynski, Mr Duda has signalled that he is willing to take an assertive role in foreign policy and one reflecting his predecessor’s nationalistic and Eurosceptic character.

Although much power in Poland rests with the government, the president oversees foreign policy, and he can set its tone and character with visits and speeches.

“Today we have the right to speak in the European Union with a firm voice,” he said while on the campaign trail. “It’s time to step out of flow of mainstream foreign policies. We need to regain our strength.”

Mr Duda has also spoken about “recalibrating” Poland’s strong ties with German, and wants to devolve Brussels’ powers back to member states.

Along with riling Brussels, a Eurosceptic stance could put Mr Duda on a collision course with the current Polish government dominated by the centre-Right Civic Platform party.

Since coming into power eight years ago, it has concentrated on building ties with Germany, putting Poland at the heart of Europe and supporting the European consensus.

Mr Duda’s election could however lead to an improvement in relations with the UK, after a marked deterioration in recent years.

His victory comes just days before David Cameron is due to visit Warsaw to outline his case for European reform, and, like the British Prime Minister, Poland’s president-elect opposes any steps towards further EU integration.

Mr Duda has also said he wants to see a permanent Nato presence in Poland to uphold security on the alliance’s eastern flank, and wants to focus both Nato’s and the EU’s attention on what he perceives as the threat posed by a re-assertive Russia.


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