Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Making sense of Andrzej Duda's win

The pundits, the pollsters, Warsaw's chattering classes (which by definition includes me) got it wrong. The first-round shock victory of Andrzej Duda in the first round of the presidential elections on 10 May were merely to serve as a wake-up call to the idle PO-voting elite who couldn't be bothered to get back from their działki to vote because in any case, Komorowski would win the second round.

And why not? In the first round Mr Duda might have beaten the incumbent by less than one percentage point on a turnout of less than half of Poland's registered voters. In other words, less than one in six of all Poles voted for Mr Duda in the first round. Clearly, thought President Komorowski's advisors and supporters, in the second round, as long as enough of the remaining five-sixths who didn't vote Duda in round one turned up to vote rationally, the right result would be assured.

Bearing in mind that third place in the first round was taken by some pop singer, and supporters of pop singers tend not to see eye-to-eye with religious conservatives, it was assumed [by whom? by the chattering classes] that this element of the disgruntled youth would come to its senses and support the status quo.

But it was not to be. As we now know, Mr Duda beat President Komorowski by two percentage points, the closest result in the history of post-1989 presidential elections.


On the part of Bronisław Komorowski and his team - complacency. The pollsters got it totally wrong. Far more wrong than the British pollsters telling the nation that Labour would beat the Tories on 7 May. So wrong in fact that their wiarygodność had evaporated totally.

Not a single poll - not one - expected Mr Duda to win the first round. Polling during the last week of the campaign showed a comfortable eight to 12 points lead for Mr Komorowski from most pollsters, with only one outlier predicting a dead heat. [Yet on a ride in southern Mazowsze, between Białobrzegi and Warka, the weekend between the first and second round, I could only see posters for Duda. Not a single one for Komorowski.]

What could possibly go wrong? Back in February, pollsters were showing 65% support for the incumbent and a 40+ percentage point lead over the second-placed Mr Duda.

So - what did go wrong? Too few PO activists and supporters considered the possibility than in a second round run-off (which was looking increasingly likely from late-March onwards, since when pollsters began suggesting that the president was unlikely to win in the first round), the young and disgruntled would cast their votes for a religious conservative candidate.

Why did the young and the left-wing decided to throw in their lot with Mr Duda?

They took the bait, so sweetly laid. It was explained to them that the reason they were jobless or poorly-paid was because a callous, greedy elite was doing them down. The answer, suggested candidate Duda, is to redistribute. But not from rich to poor.

Reducing retirement age from 67 (for men and women) to 60 (for women) and 65 (for men). Despite the fact that Poles on average live six years longer than they did in 1989. Who's going to pay for this? Those Poles who are still working. And now they complain about low wages and high taxes.

In all honesty, the Polish state pension system will be unable to pay its obligations, and if the whole thing were to stick together, we'd need to be working to 72, not 67. So Mr Duda's promises are a case of kicking the can down the street, for our children's generation to pick up the tab. Big time.

No mention among Mr Duda's shiny promises of slimming down a bloated and inefficient public administration (which lazy, complacent PO have failed to do over the past seven and half year in offices).

No mention of spurring on Polish innovation by getting universities to focus on commercialising the brilliant ideas of their talented students (who have been tending to commercialise them abroad).

No mention of streamlining the red tape that holds back entrepreneurs from growing their businesses by taking on more employees.

So, to my shame, last Sunday Polish voters have followed those in Greece and Spain who've believed the Pied Piper politicians who promise them a painless road to a brighter tomorrow.

OK - let's step back. What does this really mean? What did last year's European Parliamentary elections mean to the UK? The largest party representing British voters, with one-third of all UK seats in Brussels, is UKIP. Which was slaughtered in the general election earlier this month. Why did Brits vote for UKIP in the Euro-elections? Because 'it's a protest vote'. And because 'the European Parliamentary elections don't matter'.

Do the Polish presidential elections matter? In terms of how the outcome affects the nation, nowhere near the same extent as the American or French presidential elections. More akin to the German or Italian ones.

Does this election mean that PiS can win an outright victory in the parliamentary election this autumn? PO has suddenly and violently been woken up from its lethargic complacency. For years it has been winning elections by saying 'if not us - that lot', pointing at Messrs Kaczyński, Macierewicz and Ziobro. This worked as long as Jarosław Kaczyński was the public face of PiS. But by fielding a man one generation younger, the spell was broken.

The generational issue is crucial. The IPSOS exit poll, which proved to be very accurate, broke down the electorate by age and place of residence. It's no surprise that rural Poland tended to vote Duda while urban Poland tended to vote Komorowski. But what was a huge surprise is that the youngest cohort of voters (under the age of 30) were the strongest supporters of Mr Duda. While the next-youngest age-group in the electorate, the 30 to 40 year-olds,  proved to be the staunchest supporters of Mr Komorowski. Once young Poles have their feet on the property ladder, once they start worrying about prospects for their children, once they have some appreciation of how the economy works, they're inclined to vote for stability, not airy-fairy promises. But the youngest voters see Poland as a country of high youth unemployment, low wages and low job security. So they voted to smash the system responsible. Without a credible idea for a better system.

Mr Duda's victory is a like a window opening and letting in a sharp, icy gust of wind into a stuffy, airless room full of the same stale breath.

The big unknown unknown between now and the autumn is whether a new party, akin to the now largely defunct Ruch Palikota, will emerge to occupy the economic and socially liberal quarter. (We must learn to stop talking about 'left' and 'right' and look at politics in a two-axis way).

Mr Duda and PiS occupy the socially conservative but economically socialist quarter. The old communists, the SLD, socially liberal but economically socialist, were annihilated in this election. PSL, the 'peasants' party' is an old-school jobs-for-the-boys who'd join any coalition just to keep its placemen in jobs.

PO have held the centre ground, with a large measure of success compared to other countries in the EU, none of which can boast the same economic record from 2008 to today.

So - there's a vacancy in the top-right quadrant. Will Mr Pop-singer be in time to set up a party to occupy this ground? Or will former finance minister and reformation hero, Prof. Leszek Balcerowicz and economist Ryszard Petru ride to the rescue of fiscal prudence and financial rectitude?

The next six months will be extremely interesting - not to say fraught. Everything is at stake. The progress that Poland has made in rebuilding its economy can come spluttering to a halt if a redistributionist government pull all the wrong macroeconomic levers.

What can the ruling PO party do to hang onto power? Less and less. Summer holidays are looming, a credible legislative programme that sets out to answer the issues faced by the youngest voters is unlikely to take shape in time for the autumn parliamentary elections.

The key to the result of the parliamentary elections will be the shape of the coalition that takes power some time after the votes have been counted. Of the four parties in Sejm, PiS would never form a coalition with fellow economic redistributionists, the SLD, because of their history and PiS's social conservatism. PiS wouldn't in the current situation form a coalition with PO. PSL would form a coalition with Beelzebub if it would help its rank and file gets jobs in the public administration. But PSL may not make the 5% threshold to get back into Sejm. PiS has - until Sunday's election - failed to break through the glass barrier to reach for the levers of power. Last Sunday showed that with a change of leader who can appeal to the disgruntled young, PiS has the chance to get elected as the majority party in government.

The current government has five months to get its act together and to play, as David Cameron did so successfully, on the economic arguments. OK, there are major issues about how widely Poland's economic success has been spread. But the urban 30-40 year-olds who've painstakingly started putting a life together on the basis of economic and political stability will not take kindly to seeing their prospects dashed by crass economic mismanagement.

Populism is a real threat to growth. This argument needs to be brought to the fore and shouted from the rooftops between now and the parliamentary elections,

If there's one thing worse than outright liars at the helm, it's amateurs.

This time last year:
Call it what it is: Okęcie

This time two years ago:
Three stations in need of repair

This time three years ago
Late evening, Śródmieście

This time four years ago:
Ranking a better life

This time six years ago:
Paysages de Varsovie

This time seven years ago:
Spring walk, twilight time


student SGH said...

Actually a decent posting with rightly set diagnoses, yet two things need to be underlined...

1. It is not the idle PO-voting elite who didn't both to return from działki - the turnout of more than 55% disproves this reasoning, and why elite - I know many examples of nascent middle class representatives who hitherto voted for PO but this time backed Mr Duda

2. The supporters of the rockman are by denifition against status quo. Mr Kukiz's voters wish to, at any price, overthrow the current political elite, so no wonder they voted for Mr Duda, despite his catholic leanings and only to topple Mr Komorowski, then a member of the ruling elite.

Plus the widespread opinion is that not all Poles have fallen for Mr Duda and his hollow promises and feigned smile. They wanted show the red card to the party which has wielded power for eight years and has got too attached to their stools.

It will be mean what I say but in general those who voted for Mr Komorowski by paying taxes fund the benefits of those voting for Mr Duda.

PO is now desperately trying to get their act together and IMHO they won't. Unless Mr Duda screws it up all the way in the first weeks of his presidency, PO will lose the parliamentary election and will fall apart since nothing except for lust for power keeps them together. Sad might be our fate. I can turn a blind eye on putting a monument commerating Smolensk crash outside the presidential palace, I only fear silly economic decisions.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Student SGH

1) The działka jibe referred to the first round rather than the decisive one. Turnout was eight percentage points lower, and my guess is that the bulk of that was PO electorate. I'm at fault here myself, being in London at the time (and being on a training course all that Sunday I couldn't have slipped out to vote even if I had registered to do so).

2) The 'rockman' electorate. Their 'smash-the-system' stance will come back to haunt them if on Mr Duda's coattails the nation re-elects another PiS government with Messrs Kaczyński and Macierewicz in charge of the country, aided and abetted by various befrocked characters from Torun and Jasna Góra.

AndrzejK said...

It is amazing that 25 years after the transformations young people once again believe in miracles and that the State can create wealth. It cannot, all it can do is destroy wealth.

My own definition of a politician is a person who knows better than I how to spend my money.

Of course the State has a role to play in providing defence, education, the police, primary health care. But it cannot create real jobs.

My own bug bear is the Catholic Church which tells its adherants that someone else is responsable for their misfortune be it "gender", PO, the devil whatever. Interesting that the parts of Poland which have achieved success (the Western part) have a strong tradition of Weber's Protestant work ethic (God helps those who help themselves).

And yes PO complacency is largely to blame.

Anonymous said...

there are many reasons why Poland has been and will continue to be a financially poor country. Complacency amongst the elite has been common place for centuries - replace aristocracy for POand the result is the same.
Culture outside a very small minority of Poles is to work as little as possible. Look at the escape from Warsaw every Friday lunchtime since May, the extended holidays for kids which requre some form of parental supervision, a lack of toughness at dealing with closed shops and vested interests. Poland has rode its luck during the economic crisis; a large internal market, repatriation of billions from the diaspora and EU funds on a massive scale. The country needs a reality check but alas unless their is a seismic cultural shift Poland will continue to be an also ran