Presidential elections in Poland were often accompanied by various surprises, and sometimes even ended with such. Thus, in 1995, then head of state and recent undisputed national leader Lech Walesa lost the second round, albeit by a minimal margin, to young social democrat Alexander Kwasniewski. Five years earlier Walesa had won a landslide victory in the second round. But back then, his rival was not the country's first post-communist Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, as expected by everyone, but Canadian millionaire of Polish origin Stanislaw Tyminski, hitherto completely unknown in his homeland. Thanks to vivid populism, pressure and promises of a swift and easy national breakthrough, Tyminsky, a person very similar to Vladimir Zhirinovsky who appeared on Russia's political scene about the same time, scored 18% of votes. In the second round, however, he failed to really improve the result and got a mere 26% against Walesa's 74%.
The presidential race, with its first round having taken place last Sunday, has a similar narrative. There is an intrigue, there are unexpected problems with the recent obvious shoo-in, and there is a North American candidate. Moreover, the front-runner, the current head of state and the North American candidate are one and the same person – Andrzej Duda, who has never lived in North America, by the way. Indeed, he does not come from there, but has visited the United States right before the election.
However, first things first. Initially, the election was scheduled for May, and electoral sociology pointed to Duda's confident and not all that much difficult victory, most likely in the first round. But the coronavirus upset all the plans and the will expression had to be postponed, although until the last moment it was to be held the scheduled day, plainly by mail. And socio-economic and political problems that accumulated or worsened during the quarantine have significantly weakened the President's position and added points to his main competitor, Mayor of Warsaw Rafal Trzaskowski.
Duda's trip to Washington was arranged as a crucial bargaining chip and argument to make the task as easy as possible, if not to avoid the second round at all. It should be said that for almost thirty years Poland has been one of America's key and most loyal combatants in Europe, directed against Russia and Belarus and simultaneously playing the part of a counterweight to the "old" European countries, primarily Germany. But visiting the overseas protector's headquarters as the main and decisive argument in the domestic political battle is a substantial thing even by Polish standards. Your present correspondent predicted a noticeable sovereignization of different countries' internal politics for the coronavirus pandemic period, with everyone engaged in their own salvation and marginally interested in each other's affairs. Now we can see certain restitution of pre-coronavirus interpenetration standards. But, once again, even if Duda's visit does not completely squeeze out of these standards, the frankness of its goals are still spectacular.
However, it should be noted that the Polish leader needed this trip more than his American counterpart immersed in his own domestic political battles. Trump did render Duda appropriate attention and expressed support in the election. But all the aspects of deeper cooperation discussed remained up in the air without any distinctive context. Duda hoped that American units being withdrawn from Germany would be transferred to Poland as a sign of particular allied respect and honor. Indeed, the American contingent in Poland will increase by a thousand people, but a preliminary agreement to this effect was reached even before the meeting; and, by the way, Trump indicated that this increase would have to be paid by the Polish, not American taxpayers. The parties confirmed their desire to build up supplies of American liquefied gas to Poland and prepare for finalizing an agreement to establish an American nuclear power plant on Polish soil. But preparing is not yet signing, and certainly not the construction itself.
In general, there were far more output words and good intentions than embodied deliverables. Unless, of course, one counts the principal result Duda needs – an acclamatory pat on the shoulder from Trump. But there are questions here, too. If in this fall's American elections Trump loses to Biden, which is quite likely, won't the June pats prove prohibitively expensive?
Excessive and one-sided commitment to relations with the US, which damages ties with the EU – this is what Rafal Trzaskowski criticizes Duda for. Another trigger is that the country's socio-economic success is much more modest than the bravura narrative about these successes, as well as the fact that ill-considered policy during the quarantine cost jobs to hundreds of thousands of Poles. A separate paragraph of criticism is the President's lack of independence and reliance on the shadowy Polish "Ayatollah" Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who leads the Law and Justice Party, to which Duda belongs.
In conformity with Trzaskowski's statements on foreign policy, he can be regarded as a pro-European candidate. However, the old Europe sympathized with him up to a certain time, openly but mainly at the level of the media and expert community. However, closer to the voting day, support is becoming progressively multifaceted. For instance, there was a video featuring his colleagues from other European capitals expressing their affection for the Warsaw Mayor.
The struggle between Duda and Trzaskowski is another particular case of the electoral battle of the "two Polands". Eastern one, which is poorer, more conservative and religious, votes for conservative forces and candidates like Duda and his party. The more developed, secular, and liberal Western part votes for liberal candidates like Trzaskowski and the Civic Platform Party that nominated him. In this case, Warsaw appears as an "island" of the West in the East. In some ways, this is similar to Ukraine's division until 2014 that has partially survived to this day. There, however, division into modernized East and conservative West overlapped with the East-West ethno-cultural demarcation and rather derived from it. A similar gap exists in Turkey, where the countryside votes primarily for Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, while big urban centers back more secular forces.
As for relations with Russia, Trzaskowski's assumptive victory won't change a lot as compared to the Duda line. Both leading candidates are part of a broad, stable and virtually unshakeable anti-Russian consensus. Among other participants in the election campaign, national conservative candidate Krzysztof Bosak can be with pain and misery attributed to "Russian-realists" (if not Russophiles that don't simply exist as a species). He deems it unnecessary to reckon among the "agents of the Kremlin" any Polish politician swearing at Russia a little less than the others.
So, the first round has taken place. As expected, the final round will feature Duda with his preliminary 45% and Trzaskowski enjoying 28-29%. Countryside opted for the former, cities preferred the latter. In the second round, Trzaskowski has more potential to increase the number of votes, but will this help given such a gap? Sociologists give the final victory to the current President, though by a slight margin. Much will depend on Krzysztof Bosak's voters who was fourth with more than 7 per cent. Ideologically, Duda is closer to them, but they have come up with their behavior for the second round to a lesser extent and with less consolidation than those supporting other losing candidates.