Poland is a semi-presidential unitary constitutional republic. Despite that, Poland’s domestic political agenda is dominated by parliament, whose legislative powers are divided into two chambers – the Sejm and the Senate. The leader of the government and the executive branch is prime-minister but the head of the state is president. Latter status is neither simple nor insignificant, neither ideologically nor practically. First of all, it is noteworthy that the President is a symbol of unity and deterrent to polarization within the state. It is a respected figure for all parties, regardless of a political platform, especially when he/she is directly elected and not by parliament, as in the majority of EU member states.
The role of the president, in addition to his/her symbolic character, is significantly expressed in a number of domestic and foreign affairs. In domestic politics, the president has the right to veto a law or give it to the constitutional tribunal for examination, which not only could delay the entry into force of the law but also repeal it altogether.
Another thing that distinguishes the powers of the President of Poland from the political system of most other EU member states is that the President of Poland has the right to initiate a law that is not a common practice but creates a great opportunity.
The foreign role of the president is also important. In both semi-presidential and, in some cases, a parliamentary system, the president has the power to sign international treaties and help the government determine its course of foreign policy. Added to this, it is a fact that the head of the state is the symbol and face of the country, which implies his/her higher importance in the field of foreign affairs. Consequently, in Poland, the role of the president is highly important in a state that is pursuing a fairly active foreign policy course.
Finally, the president is the commander-in-chief of the Polish military, so he/she is directly linked to the country’s defence capabilities. As Poland faces significant military-political challenges from the East, the weight of the presidency increases even more.
Since 2015, Andrzej Duda has been the President of Poland. The 2020 presidential election, scheduled for May 10, has been postponed to June 28 due to the spread of coronavirus. In addition to the postponement, a candidate nominated by the Civic Platform – the strongest opposition party in Poland – was changed before the election – before May the candidate was former Marshal of the Sejm, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, but because of relatively low ratings her candidacy changed in favour of Rafał Trzaskowski – the current mayor of Warsaw – young charismatic leader. He is quite an active and popular figure, especially in urban centres and in the western part of the country. Trzaskowski’s position, like that of his party, is centrist, with a relatively noticeable right-wing economic policies. He is also considered a new face of Polish liberalism.
Donald Tusk, who is the founder and one of the leaders of the Civic Platform in addition to being the country’s former Prime minister, also held the post of President of the European Council and therefore is a prominent figure throughout the European Union. Tusk’s role in Trzaskowski’s nomination is quite notable. The Civic Platform and Trzaskowski have a particularly positive attitude towards official Brussels and stand on a relatively soft foreign policy platform. It is important to note that Rafał Trzaskowski has extensive experience in foreign policy – he was a member of the European Parliament and Deputy Foreign Minister. He is also taking the initiative to further warm relations with Brussels.
The government candidate is incumbent president Andrzej Duda. Until 2015, he was not a politically particularly recognizable figure. But that was his advantage. He could attract both right-wing and centre-left supporters, which initially could reduce polarization. Duda has been a member of both the Sejm and the European Parliament in the past and has been quite close to centrist positions. He is a charismatic leader. During his presidency, the support for the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) not only strengthened but also its popularity quite increased. Duda’s foreign policy is complex and, in some cases, very effective too. It seeks to minimize external threats and making its policies based on realism which is highly important in the Eastern part of Europe. In order to stop the Russian threat, Poland is strengthening ties with Ukraine and Georgia, as well as with the Baltic states and the Visegrad Group. It is important to note that during Duda’s presidency, Poland became the de facto leader of Eastern Europe and also, an emerging power in central Europe too.
Relations between the ruling Law and Justice Party and official Brussels have been relatively strained for the last five years. The party aspires a different kind of integration into European institutions, with maintaining a relatively high degree of sovereignty. It would be wrong to present Duda and PiS as a Eurosceptic movement because neither he nor his ruling party, like most of its supporters and polish society, in general, is a Eurosceptic. Their position is a strong EU, with stronger sovereignty of the member states.
Importantly, relations with the United States have been warmed up further during Duda’s presidency. Moreover, the Duda government is actively involved in US-planned military exercises and is in favour of the initiative to increase the contingent of the US military forces on Polish territory.
As for domestic politics: Duda’s governing period is not only about judicial reform, which has changed the way judges are appointed and has cooled relations with Brussels, but also about changing the country’s economic policy – implementing important social programs in Poland that have revived the eastern regions. Consequently, support for PiS and Duda further solidifies in those regions.
It is also important to consider the last aspect: as mentioned above, if Trzaskowski is mostly popular in urban areas, Duda dominates more in the rural areas. The only exception is Krakow, where Duda’s rating is noticeably high. In Poland, the rivalry between Krakow and Warsaw has been going on for a long time – the former and current capitals are fighting for symbolic supremacy – in Poland Symbolism more than matters.
In the June 28 election, Trzaskowski won 30% of the vote, while Duda – 43%. The whole world is waiting for the second round, which is scheduled for July 12.
The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tbilisi or The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.