Before a sea of waving Polish flags and a boisterous crowd of supporters chanting his name, Andrzej Duda heralded his stunning victory in Poland’s presidential election as a seismic shift in the country’s political arena.
“Those who voted for me, they voted for a change,” he said, after the first national election victory in a decade for the rightwing Law and Justice party. “Today we can change Poland.”
The win for the socially conservative, nationalist, eurosceptic party, which saw Mr Duda oust Bronisław Komorowski, the government-backed incumbent from the presidential palace, represents a significant lurch to the right in Polish politics. It has sent shockwaves through the country’s political establishment that could ultimately topple the ruling party in October after eight years in power.
Backed by both the country’s restless, anti-establishment youth and its conservative pensioners, Mr Duda’s election, which was unthinkable just a few months ago, represents a significant and far-reaching rejection of the ruling Civic Platform party.
Despite delivering years of economic prosperity and political stability, it faces the likely prospect of being booted out of power in parliamentary polls just five months away. It is a swing that could lead to significant shifts in Poland’s attitude to the EU, Warsaw’s ties with Berlin, and the country’s fiscal reform agenda.
“I am convinced that we can be united and that together we can rebuild our country,” Mr Duda, a relative unknown outside of political circles before the election, told his supporters late on Sunday.
The 43-year-old member of the European Parliament secured 51.5 per cent of the national vote.
While Poland’s president holds a largely ceremonial role, he can veto and propose parliamentary legislation. Mr Duda is expected to take office in early August.
His victory, and the potential deposing of the centrist, pro-European Civic Platform before the end of the year, will raise concerns across the EU that its sixth-largest economy may cool relations with Brussels and other western capitals.
Civic Platform has built strong ties with Germany and projected Poland as an enthusiastic, willing and outspoken member in the EU. Law and Justice is more sceptical of the EU's agenda.
Mr Duda has called for a repatriation of more powers from Brussels to individual member states, an effort that chimes with British prime minister David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with Europe ahead of a referendum on its EU membership.
Mr Komorowski’s campaign warned that Mr Duda’s party could scupper Poland’s economic gains and its important role in Europe. He reminded voters of the last Law and Justice government between 2005 and 2007, which was marked by poor relations with Germany, strongly conservative social policies and political purges of the bureaucracy.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the last Law and Justice prime minister, will be the party’s candidate for that office again in October, senior party leaders said on Monday, in an election that analysts said Civic Platform would struggle to win given the political earthquake caused by Mr Duda’s victory.
“Social emotions are turned away from the ruling party,” said Wojciech Szacki, a political analyst at Polityka Insight, a think-tank. “The demands for political changes and the anger of the young, which ended the Komorowski presidency, in the autumn will hit [Civic Platform].”
The vote illustrated deep divides in Polish society. Despite headline growth figures since 2008 that are almost twice as large as any other EU member, the fruits of Poland’s economic boom have not been equally shared.
Strikingly, all of the country’s poorer eastern regions backed Mr Duda, while the more prosperous western regions supported Mr Komorowski without exception.
In rural areas, 62 per cent of voters backed Mr Duda, according to an exit poll, while Mr Komorowski carried 59 per cent of votes from the country’s cities.
Mr Komorowski, who faces an uncertain political future, used his concession speech to encourage the party to fight to retain power.
“We have experienced worse trials, and we have fought worse battles,” said the 62-year-old. “It is only up to us to turn this failure into success. We will win.”
The president-elect has also promised to repeal an increase in Poland’s retirement age brought in under his predecessor, raise the country’s income tax threshold and force banks to convert costly Swiss franc mortgages back in local currency, moves that are estimated to cost more than €61bn.
Banking stocks and Poland’s currency all weakened on Monday morning as markets digested the implications of the election result.
“The consequent simultaneous high probability of significant changes on the political scene after the autumn parliamentary elections suggest higher political risk and uncertainty concerning the shape of fiscal and monetary policy in medium term,” lender Crédit Agricole wrote on Monday.