As predicted by numerous polls, the incumbent president Aleksander Kwaśniewski easily snatched victory in the Polish presidential elections on 8 October. Kwaśniewski became the first Polish president to be re-elected, and the first one to accomplish such an achievement without run-offs.
According to the official results, announced by the State Electoral Commission in a special ceremony held in the Polish parliament, or Sejm, Kwaśniewski received 53.9 per cent of the vote. Independent candidate Andrzej Olechowski came in second with 17.3 per cent and Marian Krzaklewski, joint leader of "Solidarity" trade union and electoral Action Solidarity (a political party which "Solidarity" is a part of) came in third with 15.57 per cent. Finishing fourth was Polish Peasants' Party leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski with 5.95 per cent.
The remaining eight candidates, including former president and "Solidarity' icon Lech Wałęsa collected 7.27 per cent (Wałęsa a mere 1.01 per cent). The turnout was 61.1 per cent, which was two percentage points lower than the previous presidential elections in 1995.
Despite negative campaign
Before the election day, however, Poles witnessed a two-week long TV campaign, which brought the most controversial moment of the pre-election period—the so-called "Kalisz tapes." Marian Krzaklewski, previously assuring he would avoid getting involved in a negative campaign, presented video footage dating from 1997, showing presidential minister Marek Siwiec and president Aleksander Kwaśniewski supposedly ridiculing Pope John Paul II.
The film was repeatedly broadcast in Krzaklewski's ads on public television. Wiesław Walendziak, responsible for running Krzaklewski's campaign, thus explained his decision for using the video, "Every campaign is based on confrontation of a politician's official image with his real image. (My intention) was to make the political scene clearer for the voters." Kwasniewski, who admitted the footage came as an utter surprise to him—as he never remembered such an incident—apologized for his behavior and pointed out the cynicism of Krzaklewski's camp who wholeheartedly used the Pope for political games. His support did drop nine percentage points, but it was still enough to win in the first round.
Andrzej Olechowski and Marian Krzaklewski who both landed behind the President are two very different figures. The former was running with virtually no political back-up, supported only by break-away Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) activist Maciej Jankowski, previously known as a radical trade unionist who showed liberal views much to the disgust of his AWS colleagues.
"politician for hire"
Olechowski presented himself as a pragmatic economy expert with virtually no reference to the matters of social policy or ideology—he ran for the office as a "politician for hire," according to his self-description. Right-wing Catholic media quickly began to view Olechowski as Krzaklewski's main rival in getting into the possible run-offs. Articulating their view, they immediately interpreted it as, "politician for hire certainly means a politician with no morals," said Catholic Radio Maryja.
Olechowski's final result was impressive enough to talk about his likely future political career. The announcement of Olechowski's possible future political path was to come two weeks after the elections, but as early as on 11 October his aides were talking of a new party—Nowe Centrum (New Center). The next day, however, Maciej Jankowski dismissed those speculations, displaying either an unwillingness to disclose Olechowski's plans or his uncertainty about what to do with the suddenly earned political capital. Olechowski may be the politician to lead the center-right electorate, which was too liberal to vote for Krzaklewski.
Bronisław Łagowski, professor of social philosophy at Jagiellonian University, said, "Olechowski is moving towards the position of the new leader for the right-wingers. If he has a talent for leadership and enough ability, he could lead a new, modern right wing—a liberal one and civilized in terms of economy. I treat Olechowski's result as a chance for such possibility." If Olechowski succeeds in forming a new party while riding on the high tide of his success, he may count on support of electorates of both AWS and Freedom Union.
Marian Krzaklewski's poor electoral result may have gotten him into serious trouble. His negative campaign earned him virtually no extra support. Moreover, it contributed to Olechowski's success as voters who fled Kwasniewski in the wake of the "Kalisz tapes," naturally supported the independent candidate, whose program did not differ that much from the president's after all.
Krzaklewski may face tough opposition inside AWS as well. Not one of his inside-AWS rivals appeared at the post-electoral meeting. One of them, Aleksander Hall said, "All seems to be going into the direction of Krzaklewski's resignation." But if Krzaklewski receives a non-confidence vote, it may endanger AWS, as, for example, many of Hall's colleagues from his conservative party SKL were engaged in Krzaklewski's campaign (including Wieslaw Walendziak) and will probably keep standing behind him at the expense of unity within SKL itself.
For AWS, and the right-wingers in general, such scenario of fragmentation would be a shameful repetition of past mistakes when they were unable to consolidate before parliamentary elections, which remarkably helped Social Democrats seize power in 1993. Krzaklewski's result is criticized not only within his party. Sociologist Ireneusz Krzeminski said: "(Krzaklewski) turned out to be a man completely without personal assets, completely without charisma. When 'Kalisz tapes' were revealed, it should have been shown that Krzaklewski is a fascinating alternative. Nothing like this happened." And the parliamentary elections, scheduled for September 2001, may take place as early as in March, when enervated AWS government fails to pass his its budget bill through the Sejm.
One more step closer to EU
And Kwaśniewski? His huge support came from both his personal assets and the way he ran the office: pragmatic and candid, he avoided conflicts, and established himself as a conciliatory element of political scene—which is one of the main functions for a president in Poland. An overall cool style of Kwaśniewski earned him popularity even before the disappointment with the AWS government came. What's in store for him now? A certain amount of pressure has been lifted off him as this is going to be his second and last term, as the Constitution states. He will not be limited by thinking of re-election so he can concentrate on leaving Poland in a good state.
Politically, his victory means Poland's continued push towards the European Union and maintaining post-1989 reforms—as that is what Kwaśniewski's long-term policy has always been. This sort of approach is what has earned him the votes of big cities, educated people and pensioners—a segment of the population that is especially tired after introduction of the health care and pension system reforms. "His victory means further shaping of Poland into a democratic, law-respecting country of social justice. This choice will augment Poland's credibility in the world's eyes," said former Minister of Justice Leszek Kubicki.
Strengthened by his victory, his political supporter Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) is now very likely to scoop the majority in the next Sejm. The possibility of a president from SLD's roots and SLD having a majority in the Sejm have raised, quite irrationally though, concerns about monopolization of power by former apparatchiks. Centrist Gazeta Wyborcza published a Piotr Pacewicz's editorial, titled "Stop SLD," which suggests Social Democrats, exultant after the projected parliamentary victory, will seize the state as if it was their own. Even further went Cezary Michalski, from the Życie daily, who simply declared that Kwaśniewski's electorate is made of "the supporters of the old order."
Presidential elections, as it seems, put a sad end to the career of Lech Wałęsa, who received as little as 1.01 per cent of the vote. There are reasons for Wałęsa's decline: Poles still remember his presidency of 1990 through 1995, full of conflicts, and deeply marred by the so-called "Oleksy case," when Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy was accused of cooperation with Russian intelligence and was forced to resign.
The meaning of the presidential elections 2000 is that they have set pace for three main political trends in Poland. First, former Communists (SLD) are strengthened by Kwaśniewski's smooth victory and will probably win the next parliamentary elections—maybe by a margin huge enough to give them control over the Sejm. Second, the right wing will need a thorough reform indeed. They will also need to replace Krzaklewski with someone more liberal, if they want to become a strong opposition. Third, the emergence of Andrzej Olechowski may become a new force on the political scene, at the expense of AWS and central-liberal Freedom Union Party (which put forth no candidate for the elections).
Sociologically, Kwaśniewski's huge win and equally huge defeat of Lech Wałęsa have definitely ended a division between post-Communist and "Solidarity" political thinking among Polish society, which simply voted for continuation of the current politics that assume a predictable course of change in Poland.
Wojtek Kość, 16 October 2000
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