Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Opinion

Poland: Duda victory isn't what you think

  • Warsaw: modern economy, political petrification (Photo: metaphox)

Many European commentators have described the Polish election result as a shift to the right - towards the eurosceptic and xenophobic policies pursued by the Law and Justice party when it was last in power.

What they fail to consider is that Andrzej Duda’s victory doesn’t so much reflect the will of the Polish electorate as the dysfunctionality of Poland’s political system.

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If we look at the breakdown of votes by age, social class, and geography (the Law and Justice candidate was endorsed by the majority of pensioners, residents of small towns and villages, and young people), and if we analyse the most hotly debated slogans of the election campaign, Duda’s victory appears to be a protest against the petrifaction of the political scene.

It appears to stem from the belief the Polish political class is out of touch with the electorate and that there's nothing and no one to vote for.

As the electoral post-mortems show, many people voted in the hope that Poland’s parliamentary elections this October will produce an outcome more in tune with the mood and needs of Polish citizens, particularly those who feel increasingly excluded from public life.

We should not forget that in the first round of voting, 20 percent of the electorate voted for the anti-establishment rock musician Pawel Kukiz, who came third.

While his supporters were courted by both Law and Justice and Civic Platform in the second round, most opted for Duda in the hope this might clear the way for a new type of governing class to emerge.

Perhaps the best example of how out of touch Polish politicians are with everyday life is the fact that one of the leading LGBT activists, Krystian Legierski, voted for Duda - a candidate whose party is perceived as traditionalist, ultra-Catholic, anti-European, and anti-gay.

The belief that politics does not reflect social realities is not, of course, uniquely Polish.

Wider disconnect

Similar voices can be heard in other EU countries, particularly post-Communist ones, whose political systems took shape at the beginning of the 1990s.

In the majority of those countries, the political class and political parties emerged spontaneously, creating a more or less balanced mix of post-Communist apparatchiks and oppositionist reformers.

This gave rise to decidedly peculiar entities such as social democratic parties with extreme neo-liberal views and right-wing Christian groupings with economic programmes based on the Communist Manifesto.

The economies of those countries, particularly Poland’s, rapidly modernised and began to meet the real needs of society. But the political sphere remained a kind of theme park – a community of people principally concerned with maintaining the administrative status quo.

In the end, politics and the system of governance came to be seen as a dull and superfluous spectacle, filled with various also-rans and those lacking the necessary qualifications and moral authority.

Also-rans in EU race

Indeed, this failure to distil the right calibre of person from the political class is perhaps one reason why the light of many local stars from eastern Europe so quickly fades when they take jobs in Brussels.

So, the next five months leading up to the parliamentary elections promises to be an exciting time in Poland.

This is particularly true because, aside from the political fight, there will be a parallel confrontation between traditional political campaigning in the press, radio and television, and campaigning via Facebook and Twitter.

Social media is now the chosen forum of debate for all those who believe that the mainstream media in Poland is as outdated and out of touch as the official political system.

Grzegorz Paluch is a freelance journalist based in Brussels who used to be editor of the BBC’s Polish service

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