What now? Re-elected Polish president’s key challenges

Warsaw – Despite narrowly winning re-election, Polish President Andrzej Duda and the populist government supporting him will face a newly energised opposition as the country’s economy heads for its first recession in decades.

Here are five points that will define politics for the EU’s sixth-largest economy in the coming months:

 

– Strengthened opposition –

 

Experts in Warsaw said Duda’s slim win over liberal challenger Rafal Trzaskowski in Sunday’s run-off election amounted to a “hollow victory” for the president and his allies in the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

“Despite Trzaskowski’s defeat, his strong performance looks like a new beginning, a new dynamic for the opposition,” Warsaw University analyst, Professor Andrzej Rychard, told local media.

Warsaw University political scientist Anna Materska-Sosnowska pointed to Trzaskowski’s strong mobilisation of young urban voters as a “red card” for Duda and the PiS.

“A new opposition force is being born,” she told AFP, adding that “young voters have shown there’s a generational shift. It’s the end of the old politicians.”

Factfile on the two presidential candidates

 

– EU collision course –

 

Since winning power in 2015, both Duda and PiS have stoked tension with the European Union by introducing controversial judicial reforms and monopolising state-owned companies and public broadcasters, among other measures.

The EU has pilloried the reforms as undermining judicial independence and eroding democratic standards just three decades after Poland shed communism. But the PiS insists the moves are needed to tackle corruption and remove the last vestiges of communism from the justice system.

Witold Orlowski, a former Polish presidential economic advisor, said he expected more tension as the “radical and moderate” wings of the PiS party clash over how to approach the EU.

Good relations are particularly important for Warsaw as the bloc carves up its massive coronavirus rescue package and its 2021-27 multi-annual budget, he added.

Poland’s populist president narrowly wins re-election

 

– Too close to Trump? –

 

During his five-year term, Duda strongly favoured relations with the United States, in particular with President Donald Trump, above ties with the EU.

He called ties with Washington “the most important” for his country and by contrast called the EU, which Poland joined in 2004, “an imaginary community from which we have little to gain”.

Duda has also tried to charm the US president, even pitching the idea of Poland building a “Fort Trump” to house thousands of US soldiers.

But critics have warned that Poland could end up isolated on both sides of the Atlantic should Trump lose to the Democrats in November.

Poland compared to other EU countries

 

– Economic crisis –

 

Analysts believe the opposition could gain ground as the PiS struggles with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic that is set to send Poland into its first recession since communism’s demise three decades ago.

“We’re entering a very difficult period,” Orlowski told AFP. “The PiS will have a tough time to fight the recession and maintain the social benefits which have been a huge component of its popularity.”

“As the social and economic situation will deteriorate, a large part of the electorate will blame the PiS.”

The PiS government has attempted to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic with generous rescue packages for Polish businesses and by rallying foreign investment.

 

– Climate challenge –

 

Poland is still massively dependent on coal, which accounts for 80 percent of its electricity needs.

The PiS government rejected the EU’s 2050 zero emissions goal, insisting it could cripple Poland’s economy.

A former energy minister has said Poland needs to spend an estimated 700 to 900 billion euros ($790 billion to one trillion dollars) to achieve net zero emissions.

Its massive Belchatow brown coal-fired power station is Europe’s largest such plant and its “single largest greenhouse gas emitter,” according to the ClientEarth global environmental NGO.

Warsaw has said it wants Brussels to fund a “fair” transition to carbon neutrality for Poland.

by Mary Sibierski

Global warming