Who will be the new president of Poland?

Polish President Anrdrzej Duda during a press conference. [Shutterstock]

After European Council President Donald Tusk announced he will not run for the Polish presidency a week ago, more opposition candidates may consider a run. New names have already started to appear on the roster.

Poland has entered pre-campaign fever ahead of next year’s presidential election with incumbent President Andrzej Duda’s campaign in full swing. The President is travelling the country and aims to reach all 380 Polish counties, including 80 that no president has visited since 1989.

Tusk’s decision means that he has no formal opponent yet and Duda plans to formally announce his campaign at the beginning of 2020.

After Tusk’s announcement, the leadership of Civic Platform (PO/EPP) – the main opposition party that he set up back in 2001 – made up their mind about party primaries. The pool is open until 19 November and party affiliates will decide who will be their representative at the December national convention.

The only official candidate for the primaries so far is Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, who was PO’s frontrunner in October’s parliamentary elections and collected the most votes in Poland – almost half a million altogether, twice as many as PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, also number one in Warsaw constituency.

If she gets to the second round of presidential elections, today she would lose with Duda by 45% to 37%, but 18% are still undecided – according to the Pollster survey for the tabloid ‘Super Express’ tabloid.

Radosław Sikorski, an MEP and the former Foreign Minister, is the one most commonly mentioned as a rival. He informed EURACTIV Poland that he is still considering whether to stand.

Sikorski enjoys wide recognition in the country, but he is a controversial and potentially divisive figure. He played a front-page role in the 2014 tape scandal that displayed the patronising and mocking attitude of Polish political elites towards their public service and the Polish people.

However, his strongman allure might win him young electorates that currently tend to vote for right-wing, eurosceptic radicals.

Simultaneously, his political experience and recognition are strong qualifications for the job, while his charisma is an objective qualification for winning elections.

From beyond the PO spectrum, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, head of the oppositional Polish People’s Party (PSL/EPP), is a safe bet to run. He was the real engine of his party’s success in the parliamentary elections, where – along with Kukiz’15 – it received 8.55%. In 2015 it hardly passed the electoral threshold.

According to the polls, Kosiniak-Kamysz would lose to president Duda by 45% to 34%, with 21% “not sure yet” replies.

One other name is appearing more and more: Szymon Hołownia – a showman, Catholic journalist, author of 20 books, and also head of two aid organisations operating mostly in Africa.

He is widely recognised among different audiences, as he works on a popular TV show “Poland’s got talent” (Mam Talent), watched by millions, and has a column for the major liberal Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.

WPROST opinion weekly and analytical centre “Polityka Insight” revealed his intention to stand as an independent candidate. WPROST suggests he might take votes from Duda in the first round and pass his support on to another candidate in the second.

Professor Renata Mieńkowska-Norkiene mentions Hołownia’s large recognition among the polls and small negative electorate. In her view, however, to make him follow Volodymyr Zeleński’s example, much more must be done to create a perception of him as a “serious candidate”.

According to professor and OKO.press political journalist Adam Leszczyński, despite Hołownia’s appeal, “this candidacy is a fantasy: no one has ever won in Poland without party support. It’s unclear who would vote for him and why would they choose a popular journalist and not, for instance, president Duda. Still I wish Szymon luck.”

Gazeta Wyborcza Editor-in-chief Jarosław Kurski – instead of pondering on Hołownia – published in this weekend’s issue a big cover op-ed on how Poland needs a candidate of the people.

He did not mean Hołownia but the present ombudsman Adam Bodnar, listing his accomplishments in countering breaches of Poland’s liberal democracy (without mentioning the name though). Mr Bodnar did not answer our question about his intention to run in elections, since – like Sikorski – he is still weighing up whether to run.

He also has a sizeable negative electorate, and the PiS has described him as agent for the opposition. We’ll see.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox and Sam Morgan)

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