Poland has elected a new President. An MEP from the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, Andrzej Duda, received 51.55% of support ahead of Bronislaw Komorowski's 48.45 %, his challenger, according to final results from the election commission presented on Monday, May 25.
The 43-year-old Duda, from Poland’s leading conservative party, Law and Justice, stunned the nation’s political establishment on Sunday by raising the real possibility for change in Poland’s political landscape in coming parliamentary elections this Autumn.
Even though the role of the President in Poland is largely ceremonial, by taking up his new office on August 6 and becoming the country’s sixth president since its transition from communism in 1989, Duda will be equipped with several important powers which can determine future of Poland - and Europe as a whole.
As head of state, he will be in charge of the armed forces, coordinating foreign policy with the foreign minister, signing or vetoing bills, and drafting his own legislation. The president represents the nation internationally and plays a part in setting the political and moral tone at home.
That gives him and the Law and Justice party scope to change Poland's relationship with the EU, until now mainly built on close cooperation with Germany, as the party is less enthusiastic about Brussels, arguing that Warsaw should focus more on its own interests.
It is true to some extent that my home country of 38 million people has avoided recession over the last few years, and the economy is set to expand by 3.5 % this year, but joblessness is still high, and stood at 11.3 % in April.
Many Polish people, in Poland as well as in abroad, are angry that the country’s economic growth has not trickled down to many Poles; low wages and job insecurity are still motivating many to seek a better life abroad.
The straw that broke the camel's back was the former First Lady’s commentary on emigration of young Poles, made at the first privately-held radio station in Warsaw, Radio ZET, when she asserted that "emigration is not a tragedy…It's an opportunity". She was comparing the ease at which many younger people today could travel, when compared to her own youth, when it was much more difficult to get a passport and travel abroad.
In fact, over the past eight years, the Civic Platform (party of Bronislaw Komorowski) built up a system that is closed off to the young, where upward mobility is impossible. “Poles want change. They issued a yellow card to the Civic Platform and risk issuing the party a red card at the general election," wrote The Polska Times daily on Monday.
Indeed, my generation (regardless of our political persuasion) credited Andrzej Duda with trust, sincerely believing in the promises made by him after the first exit polls on Sunday: “Those who voted for me have voted for change…I know that we can be united and that together we can rebuild our country.”
Because of this new-found optimism and belief in change, and with eyes in Washington and across Europe fixed on Poland, the new president will have a significant role to play in his home country, which is the sixth largest economy in the EU. He has proven that electing a person from the party, which is close to the Catholic church and regarded as socially conservative, does not mean that state modernisation will be blocked for the next five years.
He will also be instrumental in the UK’s search for allies in their battle to reform the EU. This year is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, when dozens of young Poles came to Britain’s aid after the fall of their own country. What better time for renewed co-operation between our two countries, in the face of a European super-state?