Bronislaw Komorowski’s victory over Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of former president Lech Kaczynski, who was killed in a tragic plane crash in April, is good news for economic reform and integration with the EU.
As Time‘s Beata Pasek notes, the result gives the Civic Platform (PO) Party "control of the presidency and Cabinet, and ensures smooth cooperation with Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s economically liberal government to tackle a big budget deficit and prepare the country to adopt the euro in 2015." While the office is largely ceremonial, "he can also veto laws and thus hamper the work of the government, a right that the former President exercised frequently to the point of blocking much-needed health care and media reforms."
Komorowski, who as a speaker of parliament became the interim President after the April 10 plane crash, shares Tusk’s vision of a Poland firmly anchored in the E.U., working closely with Germany and trying to improve long-troubled ties with Russia.
Meanwhile, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 61, a combative nationalist, is opposed to adopting the euro anytime soon and is distrustful of the E.U., Russia and Germany. Poland’s relations with its neighbors took a nosedive during Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s stint as Prime Minister in 2006-07, while his brother Lech as President reinforced Warsaw’s image in the European arena as a troublesome partner.
CSM‘s Jaroslaw Adamowski notes that, while falling short of victory, Kaczynski and his party came out strengthened, too:
Kaczynski’s rise in the polls throughout the race means that the right-wing PiS will be invigorated for a strong challenge during parliamentary elections in just over a year.
For now, though, Komorowski wanted the nation to focus on the fact that it is emerging pretty well united after a very difficult period following the April plane crash that killed its president and dozens of other high-ranking officials.
"We have a reason for satisfaction, because Polish democracy has won,” Komorowski told his supporters after the announcement of preliminary results. "We’ve managed to persevere through difficult moments, and now … we have to carry out a tremendous effort so that divisions don’t hinder us from working together.”
The recent rise in popularity of his Law and Justice party could very well pave the way for its victory in the parliamentary elections slated for fall 2011. Now that both the government and the president are from the ruling Civic Platform, Kaczynski’s party, which was ousted from power in 2007, is expected to become rock-solid opposition before next year’s vote.
Spiegel‘s Jan Puhl agrees:
Much of Kaczynski’s success, of course, came from sympathy. The fact that following such a terrible private tragedy — the loss of a twin, his mother on her deathbed for months — Kaczynski contested the election at all has made him a legend to his supporters. The situation seemed futile, the fighting was brave and in the end complete defeat was avoided — as so often in Poland’s heroic history.
Many commentators even believe that Kaczynski never expected to win at all, rather that from the very beginning he was looking for the moral victory that he has now won. Indeed, he is more of a political man of action; he would have had little interest in the ceremonial aspects of the presidency, they argue. Now with fresh impetus from the election, Kaczynski can torment Tusk from the opposition benches, the idea goes, and perhaps even steal next year’s parliamentary election. That, though, won’t be so easy. Polish voters are sick of the polemics of the past few years. They want peace and harmony.
As such, Kaczynski now has to develop a more positive vision, something that has never been one of his strengths. He and his brother tended to mobilize people by focusing on the negative: those who voted PiS were usually voting against the old boys’ network of communists within the economy, or the new boys’ networks of dissidents in the media or against the revisionist Germans.
For now, though, the outcome is being seen as good for Europe:
From the point of view of Poland’s neighbors the new constellation in Warsaw is positive. Tusk and Komorowski are in favor of a conciliatory approach toward both the Germans and the Russians. They are, to be sure, opposed to the planned Berlin museum to commemorate Germans expelled from Polish territory after World War II. They are also against the Baltic Sea pipeline between Russia and Germany. But they are much less shrill about their opposition than the Kaczynskis were.
Tusk and Komorowski don’t regard the Berlin government as henchmen for the Federation of Expellees nor do they believe that the Germans as a whole are attempting to wash away any guilt for World War II. Since Tusk has been in power, the tone between the two neighbors has been much more respectful.
The prime minister and his new president also have an unambiguously positive relationship to the EU. They are in favor of Poland adopting the euro as its currency as soon as possible. Lech Kaczynski and his brother were always torn on the issue. On the one hand, they acknowledged that Poland was doing well within the EU, but on the other hand they feared that the country could fall under the influence of the hegemonic power of Germany or that Brussels would destroy Poland’s national character with directives on issues like gay marriage, for example. That made Poland under the Kaczynskis an uncomfortable, demanding partner, one that often enraged those attending meetings in Brussels.
Certainly, the German government is taking note:
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed the election of Bronislaw Komorowski as Poland’s president, saying it sent “a strong pro-European signal.”
“It’s the aim of German foreign policy to deepen and strengthen ties with Poland as it has with France in past decades,” Westerwelle said in an e-mailed statement today. “With President Komorowski along with Prime Minister Tusk and Foreign Minister Sikorski, we’ll have a strong partner to set us on this course of trust and co-operation.”
They’ll need to act quickly, however, as Tusk’s government faces elections next year.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. Photo: Reuters Pictures.