Warsaw's socially conservative mayor, Lech Kaczynski, came back from a 12% deficit to defeat economic conservative lawmaker Donald Tusk in the Polish presidential runoff. Mr. Kaczynski will replace two-term, ex-communist President Aleksander Kwasniewski who is term-limited out.
This WSJ Europe (subscription required) article, written before the elections results were announced, relates some of the appeal of Mr. Kaczynski:
"The race has also turned on personalities, with the mild-mannered Mr. Tusk saying he wants to play a unifying role, while the more aggressive Mr. Kaczynski has talked tough about standing up to Russia and Germany and purging former communists from positions of influence. He has also stressed traditional Roman Catholic values such as opposition to gay rights and abortion...
Mr. Kaczynski trailed Mr. Tusk in the first round two weeks ago and lagged in polls immediately afterward, but has been helped by an endorsement from populist anti-European Union candidate Andrzej Lepper, one of those eliminated."
The WSJ goes on to note the different economic philosophies of the two:
"Mr. Tusk, head of the Civic Platform party, wants a 15% flat-tax rate on personal and corporate earnings, while Mr. Kaczynski, from Law and Justice, favors a greater role for the state in the economy. He wants tax cuts, but would maintain a system under which high earners pay more and large families enjoy deductions."
Mr. Kaczynski has defeated Mr. Tusk by a likely 10% or better margin, which is considerable given his prior 12% deficit. Mr. Kacyznski's campaigning to get the support of voters nervous about Germany and Russia should help in befriending Germany's new Chancellor Angela Merkel. This may not seem obvious at first, given expressed worries about Germany. However, Polish nervousness about Germany was heightened by former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin. Ms. Merkel will be friendlier toward Washington than Moscow.
"Merkel's friendlier attitude toward Washington will set the new transatlantic tone.... Schroeder's departure also means that Russian President Vladimir Putin has lost his closest ally and most voluble apologist in the West."
The Washington Post article (above) goes on to quote outgoing President Aleksander Kwasniewski with some interesting observations on where Polish and German relations will lead.
""The grand coalition should work out to be the best solution for Germany," Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said in our conversation in Washington last week. "Germany will remain close to Russia but will no longer depend on the very personalized symbols of Schroeder's politics. Germany under Merkel will work to establish the broad framework for a European Union policy toward Russia."
Merkel will make no abrupt changes on Iraq, Kwasniewski predicted. The Polish leader committed troops to the multinational force in Iraq and hopes his successor will keep them there after Kwasniewski leaves office in December. "You have elections and a new government in Iraq after December, and there will be a chance for new steps, perhaps a new United Nations resolution and a new international presence in Iraq," he said. "That is when a Germany that is more open to arguments from the United States could be helpful."
It is important, Kwasniewski continued, that Merkel has personally experienced the transformation of totalitarianism into democracy. Raised in communist East Germany, she tenaciously made her way to the top of the Christian Democratic Union after Germany's reunification.
"She understands the driving force of our times, the move to democracy, because she has lived it," said Kwasniewski, whose career traces the same arc. His successful mediation of the Ukraine crisis last December, as Poland's neighbor teetered on the edge of great bloodshed, has received too little international recognition."
Mr. Kaczynski's ant-communist bent should fit in well with Ms. Merkel's philosophy considering she grew up under communism in Eastern Europe. This doesn't bode well for Putin's conservative, non-democratic ways. The net effect of this election and the recent German election is to move Eastern and Central Europe closer to the United States and away from the Russians. It also means greater support for the US-UK desire to see a stable democracy emerge in Iraq.
Now if only France was ready for an election.
UPDATE: For a more indepth look at the Polish elections, visit The Beatroot's post. His commentary comes from a Londoner's perspective living in Warsaw. (October 24, 2005)