Bronislaw Komorowski, the candidate of Poland's ruling pro-business Civic Platform party, has become the country's next president. Komorowski beat Jaroslaw Kaczynski by a margin of seven percent of the vote.
Liberal parliamentary speaker and acting president Bronislaw Komorowski has won Poland's presidential run-off election.
With all votes counted, Komorowski earned 53 percent of the vote, while his opponent, nationalist opposition leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, gained 47 percent of the votes, according to the election commission.
Jaroslaw is the twin brother of former president Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash on April 10. The election was triggered by the former leader's sudden death, along with his wife and 95 others, in the crash.
Sunday's election followed a first round of voting on June 20, in which neither candidate secured a majority.
'Good for Poland'
On hearing early results, a beaming Komorowski said that Polish democracy had emerged the winner.
"Today democracy has won, our Polish democracy," Komorowski said before a crowd of cheering supporters, adding that it was "important not to foment divisions, but to build a sense of unity."
Kaczynski admitted defeat shortly after Komorowski's speech.
"I congratulate the winner. I congratulate Bronislaw Komorowski," Kaczynski said from his campaign headquarters.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also offered his congratulations, describing the result as a step in the right direction for closer cooperation between Poland and Europe.
"The Polish people's decision to elect Komorowski is a strong pro-European signal," Westerwelle said in Berlin. "With President Komorowski, as well as Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, we will have a strong partner for our path of trust and cooperation."
Prior to the run-off election there were growing fears that the start of summer holidays in Poland would make voters prefer Baltic beaches to polling stations, though this did not materialize.
At 52 percent, turnout was much higher than expected. Analysts said it was a clear sign of the mobilization of the two electorates: the traditional, conservative, euroskeptic and mostly rural supporters of Kaczynski, and the more reform-minded, pro-European urban voters. That division was apparent in a sampling of views among voters in Warsaw.
"We just need to stop Kaczynski from winning. He's stuck in the past and he's bad for Poland's position in the EU," a young businessman told Deutsche Welle at a polling station in the leafy middle class Warsaw suburb of Jozefoslaw. "Komorowski, together with the reformist prime minister, Donald Tusk, will lead us deeper into Europe."
However, a retired teacher offered this opinion of Komorowski as she cast her ballot: "[He] represents those smug businesspeople who have been allowed to thrive at the expense of us pensioners. I'm voting for Kaczynski, because he cares for people like me. He's a patriot who holds national values dear.”
European integration versus national values
Komorowski is a close ally of the prime minister. Both men argue that Poland needs economic liberalization to maintain economic growth - the country was the only EU member to avoid recession last year, although growth slowed to 1.8 percent from 5 percent in 2008.
Ahead of the run-off vote, Kaczynski accused them both of plotting to privatize national health care and sell the country out to foreign investors at the expense of the poor. Komorowski has however insisted that European integration was his highest priority.
"The number one issue is Poland's EU membership, strengthening its position there, developing the Weimar triangle relationship with Germany and France and building reconciliation with Russia," he said in a televised debate.
"It is also in Poland's interests to serve as a champion of European integration with countries further east."
Euroskeptic and nationalist
Kaczynski took a more nationalist tone. While giving few specifics on foreign policy, he clearly stated his plans to carry on his late brother's policies.
"I won't let Poland be treated as a minor partner by any other country in Europe," he said in the debate. "Foreign policy, which should clearly be the domain of the Polish president, requires that the principle of sovereignty should be clearly adhered to, which doesn't always happen under the present government."
Critics say his unabashed euroskepticism, which he championed during his term as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, alienated Poland's neighbors. He said he currently has no interest in adopting the euro, pointing out that the free-floating zloty has helped Poland ride out the economic crisis.
"If we had pushed for the euro as the government wanted, we would today be in an economic catastrophe," he said.
Opinion: Poland voted for Europe by electing Komorowski
With a lean majority at 53 percent of the vote, liberal conservative leader Bronislaw Komorowski is set to become Poland’s next President. DW’s Bartosz Dudek sees Komorowski’s win as a victory for Europe.
President-elect Bronislaw Komorowski and his liberal conservative party Civic Platform stand for a Europe-friendly and future-oriented Poland. They also value dialogue and compromise in their political dealings.
But defeated presidential candidate Jaroslaw Kaczynski also achieved considerable success in this election. His 47 percent of the vote is a political base upon which his conservative Law and Justice party can build upon in the next parliamentary elections in 2011.
Komorowski's kingmakers were Poland's left-of-center voters. Though rival Jaroslaw Kaczynski made a leftist, populist turn at the end of his campaign, it simply was not enough to win over left-of-center voters. Even Kaczynski's praise of Communist-era social policies could not sway them. Two-thirds of the left-of-center voters marked Komorowski's name on their ballots, making him the country's next president.
The close result of the election also demonstrates to what extent Poland is politically divided. While Komorowski's campaign spoke to younger, educated, urban voters, Kaczynski tended to attract older, less educated and more rural voters. There can also be no talk of true defeat in this election because, as leader of the largest opposition party, the power-hungry Kaczynski will long remain a serious rival to liberal-conservative Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President-elect Bronislaw Komorowski.
Therefore, Kaczynski's success at the polls must be heeded as a warning. The path for Kaczynski's return to power would already be paved, should Warsaw's current coalition government wind up presiding over corruption, rising joblessness, or harsh social policies. If Kaczynski were to return as Poland's prime minister, he could throw Poland back into the domestic and foreign confrontations that once dominated the country's politics.
So Komorowski's election is not only good news not only Poland but also for German-Polish relations and for Europe as a whole. A cheerful, aimiable Polish president with foreign affairs experience and good relations with other European leaders will make Poland a stable pillar of European politics. This bodes well for the polish EU presidency in 2011 and the beleaguered European Union.