Nationalist opposition candidate Andrzej Duda made a surprisingly strong showing Sunday in the first round of Poland’s presidential election, apparently forcing a runoff with incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski who faces a tough re-election campaign, according to exit poll results.
Duda, who is no fan of the European Union, was predicted to receive 34.5 percent of the vote to Komorowski’s 33.1 percent, according to the IPSOS exit poll released by the private TVN24 and the state-run PAP news agency.
The poll results suggest rising dissatisfaction with the ruling pro-EU establishment led by the center-right and pro-business Civic Platform party, which has been in power since 2007. Komorowski was a member but left in order to be a non-aligned president. The dissatisfaction was also reflected in the unexpectedly high support — 20.5 percent of the vote — predicted for punk rock star Pawel Kukiz, an anti-establishment candidate critical of the government.
Official results could be announced late Monday, the State Electoral Commission said.
The results mean that Komorowski is in “gigantic trouble and must fight very hard to survive” in the May 24 runoff, said political analyst Antoni Dudek.
“The fact that (Komorowski) comes from the Civic Platform and defended all their decisions and never protested on any key issue has worked against him,” Dudek said. “He also lost a lot by a poor campaign start and by underestimating the opponent.”
He said Duda is a “dynamic candidate who has had a very good campaign,” and could do well in the runoff by drawing support from Kukiz’s voters. The exit polls indicate that the combined total for Duda and Kukiz tops 50 percent.
The vote was a test for Poland’s two major political forces, represented by Komorowski and Duda, ahead of the country’s parliamentary election in the fall. Duda’s Law and Justice party backs a mix of national pride, Catholic values and social welfare programs and is more conservative than the current government. They both advocate a stern stance toward Russia and support neighboring Ukraine in its conflict with Moscow.
Komorowski, who has served as president since 2010 and made harmony his trademark, called for a debate with Duda and vowed to urgently present new reforms. Thousands of young people emigrate and seek jobs abroad as Poland’s jobless rate remains well above 10 percent and earnings are much below the EU average.
“The result of the exit poll is a serious warning for the entire team in power,” Komorowski said. “We should listen to the voters, because it’s evidently necessary to mobilize all rational forces in Poland.”
He appealed for energy and cooperation with the “large group of voters evidently disillusioned and waiting for fast, much faster change and modernization.”
A beaming Duda appealed to voters for more support in the runoff.
“We want to have a dignified life in a safe Poland, which needs to be mended in many areas,” Duda said. “Today this primarily means a change at the presidential office.”
“We will win,” he said.
The exit poll forecast that no candidate would win more than 50 percent of the votes needed to avoid a runoff. It put turnout at 48.8 percent of Poland’s more than 30.2 million voters.
Eight other candidates received single-digit support in the exit poll, including the main left-wing candidate, former actress and TV commentator Magdalena Ogorek, who had a mere 2.4 percent, reflecting the decline of the Democratic Left Alliance that she represented, the successor to the once powerful communist party.
With most power in the hands of Poland’s prime minister and the government, the presidency has largely ceremonial duties but the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces and has the power to propose and veto legislation.