The first round of the Polish presidential elections are behind us. Civic Platform (PO) candidate Bronisław Komorowski manages 41% while Law and Justice (PiS) candidate Jarosław Kaczyński gets 37%. These two candidates will now battle it out for the Polish presidency in the second round on July 4. For many, Komorowski’s lowly 41% and Kaczyński’s impressive 37% are surprising but we have to take a few factors into consideration. Firstly, both candidates are substitutes: Komorowski was elected after Tusk decided not to run in the presidential elections whereas Jarosław Kaczyński only decided to run after the death of his brother, the then President. Secondly, the Smolensk tragedy has played its part in dulling the campaign. Thirdly, the recent floods have done little to help raise the profile of the elections.
Interestingly, year-in-year-out, the polls seem to be out of touch with reality. Every time we see the newest surveys and exit polls they all seem to suggest a greater margin of victory for PO over PiS. Every time, the margin of error is greater than we might expect. In other words, polls in Poland simply cannot be trusted, as come every election, PiS always manages to get around 5-10% more than the polls suggest.
However, it is neither Komorowski’s disappointing result or Kaczyński’s first-round turn-around that is intriguing. What is really thought-provoking is the fact that after centuries of turmoil and upheaval, Poland is still a country divided. In a previous post, we saw how the Polish partitions had done much to create ‘two Polands’ – Eastern and Western. Poland’s rail network can be divided along these lines with the east far less ‘dense’ than the west. These borders almost exactly match the partition borders of 1795!
Some of you may wonder what this has to do with the elections? Quite a lot. Poland was partitioned along the 1795 demarcation lines given above; Poland’s current rail network mirrors, almost perfectly, these same borders. What is surprising is the fact that after 215 years this East-West division still persists. When we look at the regions in which Komorowski and Kaczyński were victorious, we see this same pattern is repeated. West voted for Komorowski, East voted Kaczyński. Not only is this East-West divide economic in nature but also political. Both candidates and parties should think long and hard about why this is happening and what can be done to address the ‘problem’.