After UK, Poland gets ready to vote; Komorowski tipped to win

  • AFP, Warsaw
  • Updated: May 08, 2015 15:53 IST

Poles vote Sunday in the first round of a presidential election after a lacklustre campaign focused on defence and social issues, with popular incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski expected to win.

The 62-year-old historian who was elected in 2010 and is close to the governing centrist Civic Platform (PO) party,however, appears unlikely to secure a second term without a run-off vote on May 24.

"President Komorowski has the advantage of being well-known among Poles, with his affable... ways," political scientist Mikolaj Czesnik said.

"But his focus on the external threats Poland is facing is less effective than his rivals' promises," he told AFP.

While Komorowski focuses on the security challenges Warsaw faces amid heightened tensions with Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, his rivals are trying to appeal to voters by pledging to lower retirement age and reducing taxes.

The ballot comes ahead of an autumn parliamentary vote with early opinion polls pegging the PO narrowly ahead of its main rival, the Law and Justice (PiS) conservative party.

PiS presidential candidate Andrzej Duda, a 42-year-old lawyer running a distant second, has promised social benefits galore in fiery campaign speeches.

"His promises go well beyond the powers of the president and his generous economic proposals could even ruin the (much larger) German budget," said Radoslaw Markowski, a political scientist at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Komorowski has been losing momentum in opinion polls -- from almost 50% support a few months ago to less than 40% days before the ballot -- while Duda has seen his backing stall at just below 30%.

Anti-establishment rock star Pawel Kukiz is tipped for the third spot with 11% support, thanks to a growing young and disillusioned electorate.

Marginally popular contenders include a leftist political unknown with model good looks, and five populist right-wingers.

The president of Poland has limited powers but he controls defence and foreign policy and can also initiate and veto legislation.

To Komorowski, a former defence minister, national security is particularly important.

"It's been a long time since an armed conflict has been as close to Polish borders as the one today," he warned at the weekend, evoking Russia's "aggression" against neighbouring Ukraine.

Analysts say Komorowski embodies stability, driving voters seeking change towards the other candidates, all of whom oppose the PO government's liberal and pro-EU politics.

Duda can count on support from the Solidarity trade union, whose frontrunner negotiated a peaceful end to communism in Poland in 1989 under the leadership of Lech Walesa.

Duda came down hard on the 2011 Istanbul Convention, the world's first binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women, which Poland ratified last month.

Like Poland's powerful Catholic Church, he also opposes in-vitro fertilisation, unlike Komorowski.

The head of the Polish episcopate, archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, waded into the campaign Sunday, urging the faithful to vote for "people whose perspective and opinions don't go against Catholic values".

Though open about his Catholic faith, Komorowski has not shied away from alienating a good part of the conservative clergy in an apparent bid to attract left-leaning voters.

The tactic may well work, with leftists scratching their heads over the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance's decision to field Magdalena Ogorek, a 36-year-old political unknown, as its candidate Czesnik said.

The historian with striking good looks started out third in opinion polls but quickly fell behind after a string of disappointing public appearances and statements.

"We've seen a young electorate crop up over the last five years in Poland, with completely new concerns, a fear of unemployment, uncertain retirement prospects, (and) inaccessible credit," Czesnik said.

With anti-establishment candidates like Kukiz vying for their support, this new electorate nonetheless appears likely to sit out the run-off, he added.

Still, the candidates will gain name recognition that could benefit them in the autumn parliamentary elections.

"I can very well see Pawel Kukiz starting his own party, with the possibility of entering parliament," Czesnik said.

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