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Polish president's re-election bid falters at first hurdle

11 may 2015, 15:52
0

 Conservative opposition challenger Andrzej Duda pulled off a surprise first-round lead in Poland's presidential ballot on Sunday, edging ahead of incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski with promises of generous social spending, AFP reports.

Duda scored 34.8 percent against Komorowski's 32.2 percent, with rock star and political novice Pawel Kukiz trailing at 20.3 percent, according to an exit poll by Poland's TVP public television broadcaster.

"This result is a serious warning for the entire governing camp. We have to listen to the voters' voice," a sombre Komorowski told campaign staff in Warsaw in a reference to the fact that his political allies in the ruling centrist Civic Platform (PO) face parliamentary polls in the fall.

He also vowed to present disillusioned voters with "urgent policy changes".

Duda, speaking to wild applause at his Warsaw campaign headquarters, said: "In order to live with dignity in a secure Poland, many areas must be fixed and the repairs must begin with a change in the office of president."

The 42-year-old lawyer is backed by the Law and Justice (PiS) conservative opposition party, which is gaining ground against the PO ahead of the parliamentary polls.

"Voters are saying you have to slow down and be more honest, creating a less liberal Poland, focused more on social welfare," political analyst Eryk Mistiewicz told AFP.

The lacklustre campaign ahead of round one on focused on security and social issues and saw Komorowski's initially strong lead melt away as Duda gained steam on promises of generous social spending as well as lowering taxes and the retirement age.

"His promises go well beyond the powers of the president," Radoslaw Markowski, a political scientist at the Polish Academy of Sciences said, warning that Duda's platform "would even ruin the (much larger) German budget!"

Komorowski, a 62-year-old historian, took office in 2010 after the death of his predecessor in a plane crash. His campaign was centred on national security concerns raised by Russia's meddling in neighbouring conflict-torn Ukraine.

The president has limited powers, which include steering defence and foreign policy and the right to veto legislation in Poland, a central European powerhouse of 38 million people.

Unlike Komorowski, Duda agrees with Poland's powerful Catholic Church in its opposition to in vitro fertilisation. Duda also won the support of the Solidarity trade union.

    Broken promises 

 The PO's unkept promises on tax reforms for small and medium-sized businesses have undermined support for Komorowski.

Slawomir, a construction worker in Warsaw, said his ballot went to Duda.

"I'd rather see the president occupy himself with the everyday problems of average Poles. Instead all the talk is about security and the Russians out to get us," the 47-year-old told AFP, declining to reveal his surname.

Kukiz, 51, an anti-establishment rocker, capitalised on that discontent to score 20 percent, not enough to stay in the running. Although he was previously affiliated with the PO, on Sunday he refused to throw his weight behind either of the run-off candidates.

A 40-year-old Warsaw banker who gave his name only as Pawel said Kukiz got his protest vote.

"It's a red card in round one because in round two I'll probably vote for Komorowski. But for now, I want to send those in government a signal that they had better get their act together," he told AFP.

    Worried about war 

 Komorowski, a former defence minister, has repeatedly warned of the threat to Poland from Russia's military resurgence.

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

"He's very stable and hasn't started a war with anyone. Things could be different with someone who's a loose cannon," delivery truck driver Wieslaw Banachowicz, a Komorowski voter, told AFP.

Analyst Mistewicz said the election "highlighted a divide between people who benefitted during the 25 years since the fall of communism in 1989, and those who feel lost".

"Komorowski is backed by voters who think Poland has benefitted from its renewed freedom, while all other candidates are supported by people who are unhappy," he said.

"The campaign ahead of round two will go nuclear," Mistewicz added.


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