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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ladies and gentlemen, your Presidential candidates

Though it started out with eight or nine candidates, and still has four or five contenders (there are 21 candidates registered), the race to become President of Poland has effectively been narrowed down to two: Speaker of the Sejm (pronounced "same", the lower house of the Polish parlaiment) Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz ("Chee-mo-SHAY-vitch"), and the current mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczyński ("Ka-CHIN-ski").

Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's widest read newspaper, reported today that Cimoszewicz, who at first refused to enter the race before being urged to do so by the Left establishment, including current President Kwaśniewski, was leading in the race with 31% of the vote. As soon as he entered the race he was on top of the polls, though regular campaigning had begun a few months back. Jolanta Kwaśniewska, Mr. Kwaśniewski's wife and the current First Lady of Poland, is the Cimoszewicz campaign manager.

Cimoszewicz instantly took the top spot in the polls as much for his endorsement by the political establishment as for his distance from it. Though a founding member of the ruling scandal-ridden SLD (the Democratic Left Alliance - and that appellate is now required), he was never implicated in any of the dirty dealings that sunk the party (although recent Parliamentary polls put the SLD at 7% - 4% higher than previously and over the 5% threshold required to keep them in Parliament). He was a member of the Communist party, but if you were politically ambitious in the late 60's and early 70's in Poland, you had to be. Kwaśniewski too is a former communist, and has been nothing but a free-market capitalist and westernist since the fall of communism. Cimoszewicz is much the same. He was also Prime Minister for a short time, and was a well-spoken Foreign Affairs Minister.

His popularity is also surprising given his shock refusal to testify at the "Orlengate" committee hearings, set up to investigate one of those very scandals for which the SLD earned its flattering prefix. He had a good point though, saying that nearly everyone on the commission (all leaders or very-high ups in the respective parties) had a political agenda against him. He has been called to testify again this week. The Polish public was not enthused with his shenanigans, nonetheless, they prefer him to Lech Kaczyński.

According to today's Gazeta Wyborcza poll, Lech Kaczyński is in second place, with 20% of the vote. That means he and Cimoszewicz would go through to a second round if elections were held today - there is little sign of those numbers changing between now and October 9, the scheduled date of the election, barring a major event.

Kaczyński is a member of the PiS (Law and Justice) party, which his twin brother Jarosław leads. If PiS wins Parliamentary elections in September, and Lech wins the presidential election, we'll have twin brothers as President and Prime Minister of Poland. They first came into the public eye as child movie stars.

Kaczyński is widely reviled in Warsaw, mostly for his banning of the Equality Parade, which is the annual GLBT pride event. Last year he banned the parade as well, but this year they got arround the ban, by setting up several demonstration points around the city and simply walking to them together, one after another. Despite that, crime has dropped significantly in Warsaw since he's been mayor, and investment has increased.

Warsaw Station endorses Cimoszewicz.

Kaczyński deserves applause for putting more police on the streets of Warsaw, and for making it more business friendly. There is a palpable decline in bureaucracy, which is welcome. Much more however, remains to be done.

And his party has taken a decidedly anti-open-market stance in an effor to differentiate itself from PO (Civic Platform) which is another center-right party looking to overtake PiS in the Parliamentary polls. PO is much more open-market, advocating both a flat tax and complete privatization of state companies. PiS has come out against both.

Kaczyński's resistance to the Equality Parade is also disturbing. In Poland, the President is head of state, an ambassador. Such pig-headedness is sure to win few negotiations, few new investments, and few friends.

It looks very much like Cimoszewicz will not relenquish his lead though, and conservatives in the States need not be annoyed by this former communist. As Kwaśniewski's hand-picked successor, he's not expected to change Poland's policy of strong friendship with the US. As a previous Foreign Minister, he was tactful and balanced Poland's economic relationship with Europe deftly with its relatoinship of security with the US. What I like most about him is that he understands the need to attract investment in innovation and infrastructure here. As much influence he'll have on domestic policy (which isn't a whole lot), he'll focus on getting high-tech investments here, to provide jobs for Poland's extremely well-educated and extremely unemployed (40%) youth. Better infrastructure will just increase the chance of investment.

google search: Cimoszewicz

google search: Lech Kaczyński

Wikipedia's Polish presidential election, 2005 page


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