Age break-down of the vote suggests that a liberal majority is on its way
The re-election of Andrzej Duda as President of Poland by the narrowest of margins showed a country split almost down the middle along practically every index. According to provisional results released by the Electoral Commission, Duda, supported by the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party, received 51.2 per cent of the vote, to Rafal Trzaskowski’s 48.8. It was one of the closest results in a Polish presidential election on a turnout that, at practically 70 per cent, was one of the highest.
Duda’s re-election is a huge disappointment for supporters of Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw, who had hoped that his victory would start to return Poland to the largely progressive path it had been on in the years immediately before and after it joined the European Union in 2004. It means that the conflict with the European Union over changes to the country’s judicial system — which are seen as potentially politicising the judiciary — is likely to continue, as will pursuit of the traditional “family values” agenda, which limits LGBT rights and outlaws gay marriage.
The electoral map of Poland nonetheless offers some signs of hope for the nearly half of the country who support change. The country was almost evenly split along practically every indicator: the more traditionalist east of the country against the western part; the countryside against the cities, and the over-40s against those under 40 (especially those under 25). But the two halves were more finely balanced this time around than at the presidential election five years ago and the age break-down suggests that in five years’ time, if not at the parliamentary elections in 2023, there could be a liberal victor.
Another plus from Sunday’s result might be the turn-out. While the 70 per cent was hailed by Duda as giving him a convincing mandate, it also showed that Polish voters have not lost faith in the political process. The closeness of the result also makes it less likely that there will be pressure for early parliamentary elections to capitalise on the conservatives’ victory. Early parliamentary elections, if the Law and Justice Party again came out on top, could have meant the conservatives retaining both executive and legislature for the next five years.
And while relations between Warsaw and Brussels look set to remain fractious, it is just possible they may be less fractious than before. One reason is that the UK’s departure from the EU leaves those countries, such as Poland, unhappy with what they see as interference from the EU, without their biggest ally. Another is the prospect that relations between “old” and “new” Europe could start to settle down.
It is sometimes not appreciated how differently the two parts of Europe see the European Union and its institutions. While “old” Europe sees the EU as a guarantee of peace and for that reason worth the small sacrifice of sovereignty that membership entails, the “new” Europeans saw — and still see — the EU as a guarantee of their individual nationhood and security, and suspect anything that impinges on their restored sovereignty. How soon — or even whether — the view of the EU from Warsaw comes closer to the way it is seen from Paris or Berlin is in question. But Poland’s next generation, who overwhelmingly opposed Duda, will have the answer, and this year’s results suggest that the President elected in five years’ time will be theirs.