Warsaw (AFP) – Poles vote Sunday in the second round of a too-close-to-call presidential election with incumbent centrist Bronislaw Komorowski trying to fend off the populist challenge of conservative newcomer Andrzej Duda.
Sunday’s result is also being billed as a pointer to the outcome of the country’s autumn general election.
After nearly eight years in power, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), in which Komorowski once served as minister, is running neck and neck in the polls with Duda’s right-wing opposition Law and Justice Party (PiS).
Even so, the cerebral Komorowski, a 62-year-old communist-era dissident, was stunned by his razor-thin defeat in the first round to his energetic challenger on May 10.
Duda, a 43-year-old lawyer and MEP with a populist streak, scored a one percent victory by winning over disillusioned voters with promises of generous social spending, an earlier retirement age and lower taxes.
“I’m waiting for the promised 500 zloty (121 euros, $134) in benefits per child — and I have five,” Duda voter Malgorzata Dorota Slizankiewicz wrote Saturday in a comment to his official Facebook campaign page.
“I just wonder where you’ll get the money, Mr Duda,” she added, echoing widespread misgivings over the feasibility of his promises.
Head of state since 2010, Komorowski is by contrast a seasoned defence specialist who has won support from the Polish-born former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski as well as a bevy of Polish actors and athletes.
But analysts said Sunday’s vote was too close to call.
“The victory of one or the other will be a narrow one and is impossible to predict on the basis of polls,” Stanislaw Mocek, a political scientist at the Polish Academy of Sciences told AFP.
Duda was narrowly ahead of Komorowski with 51 percent in an opinion poll conducted May 18-20 and released Friday by the Polska The Times daily.
Two other surveys also showed Duda with a paper-thin lead, but a Millward Brown poll put Komorowski on top.
The Polish head of state acts as commander in chief of the armed forces, heads foreign policy and is able to introduce and veto legislation.
– Power play –
Analysts suggest that Komorowski’s struggles are in large measure a signal from voters to his friends in the PO.
In power since 2007, the party is seen as having failed to keep its promises in key areas like administrative and tax reform.
The rival PiS, led by controversial ex-premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski, knows wooing disillusioned voters is key to its ambitions for a comeback both in the presidency and parliament.
Kaczynski — whose twin brother the late president Lech Kaczynski died in a 2010 plane crash in Russia — is making no secret of his wish to return to power. A Duda win could pave the PiS’s way in parliament.
After his defeat to Komorowski in the 2010 presidential election, the 65-year-old Kaczynski floated the upbeat Duda as his party’s candidate and has himself kept a very low profile during campaigning.
– Winning over the undecided –
Komorowski and Duda were kissing babies and shaking hands nationwide right up to the last hours of the campaign, trying to win over the undecided.
Who captures the support of those people who voted for anti-establishment rock singer and political newcomer Pawel Kukiz in the first round is key.
He scored a surprise third place with 20 percent thanks to disillusioned voters, especially young Poles struggling in the job market.
A country of 38 million people, Poland is the only EU member to have avoided recession over the last quarter century.
Its economy is set to expand by 3.5 percent this year, yet joblessness has remained stubbornly high at 11.3 percent.
“On Sunday, Poland will choose between two factions. First, that of reason and predictability represented by Komorowski, who is well-known to Poles,” Mocek said.
“And second, that of faith and unpredictability embodied by Duda, because this isn’t an independent politician: behind him lurks Jaroslaw Kaczynski,” he insisted.