Poland Sets Date for Pivotal Election as Row With EU Deepens
(Bloomberg) -- Poland will hold a presidential election on May 10 that’s set to determine the longevity of its revolt against the European Union’s liberal democratic standards.
Incumbent Andrzej Duda, a 47 year-old lawyer with a penchant for patriotic speeches, is set to defend the nationalist government’s record of a booming economy and contested judicial changes that have triggered clashes with the EU and raised questions about Poland’s reputation as a safe place to do business.
Parliament Speaker Elzbieta Witek announced the date Wednesday, starting the clock on a face-off between Duda and the main opposition candidate Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska. A run off will be held May 24 if none of the contenders wins at least 50% support. At least six candidates have declared their intention to run.
The announcement comes a day after Duda ratified a law that slaps penalties on judges who are critical of the government’s justice-system changes, including fines, suspensions, salary cuts and dismissals. The legislation has been denounced by jurists and civil-rights groups, while the EU’s top court has been asked by the bloc’s executive to issue an injunction to suspend the disciplinary system for judges.
The ruling Law & Justice party, part of the wave of populist forces emerging across Europe, has been accused by the EU’s executive of seeking to subordinate the courts and breaching the bloc’s democratic values. In order to continue realigning Poland away from the EU mainstream, the government must have an allied president to sign its often contested legislation into law.
“Law & Justice couldn’t govern without Duda - he’s useful and manageable,” said Marcin Zaborowski, a senior associate at the Visegrad Insight think tank. “His loss could be the beginning of a decline for the party.”
Recent opinion polls show Duda 20 percentage points ahead of Kidawa-Blonska in the first round of voting, but a head-to-head run-off could be much closer with one survey from last month giving the incumbent only a 0.2 point second-round lead.
Click here for the latest presidential voting intentions
Once the poster child for post-communist changes, Poland’s new direction is becoming a long-lasting headache for the EU. After more than a dozen court-system changes by Law & Justice, judges are unsure about their ability to issue verdicts and the validity of thousands of cases have been questioned, signaling the country is slipping into legal disarray.
At the same time, Law & Justice has introduced generous social-welfare handouts to families and poorer Poles, bolstering its popularity and helping keep economic growth at above 4% annually for most of the past four years.
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