Andrzej Duda wins Polish presidency in major upset
Incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski concedes defeat as huge blow dealt to Civic Platform party
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski conceded defeat in the country's presidential election Sunday after an exit poll showed him trailing Andrzej Duda, a previously little-known right-wing politician.
If the exit poll is confirmed by official results, which are due Monday, it marks a significant blow to the ruling Civic Platform party ahead of more important parliamentary elections this year. The pro-market and pro-European party has overseen unprecedented growth during its eight years of power, but is now being punished by voter disillusion.
Many Poles say they are fed up with corruption scandals that involved government members, and with the fact that economic growth has not trickled down to many ordinary Poles.
Duda belongs to the Law and Justice party of former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a right-wing party that mixes traditional national values such as Catholicism with calls for a stronger state role in the economy. The party ran the government from 2005-2007 and the presidency from 2005 to 2010, until the late president Lech Kaczynski, the party chairman's twin brother, was killed in a plane crash in Russia.
During the campaign, Duda, a lawyer and member of the European Parliament who was previously little known in Poland, called for the retirement age to be lowered. He also said he wants Poland to retake control of the banks, two-thirds of which are foreign owned.
Poland needs change and Duda is the sign of the change that Poland needs.- Satirist Marcin Wolski
The exit poll said 53 per cent of the votes in Sunday's final round of the presidential election went to Duda and 47 per cent to Komorowski. It was conducted by Ipsos and reported by the public broadcaster TVN. It has a margin of error plus or minus two percentage points.
"I congratulate my competitor Andrzej Duda and wish him a successful presidency," Komorowski said.
The mood was joyous at the election night gathering of Duda's Law and Justice party over what is apparently its first significant electoral victory in nearly a decade. There was an explosion of cheering and people flashed V signs for victory.
In a brief speech, Duda, 43, vowed an open presidency based on unity and said that it would take a lot of difficult work to fix the country's problems.
'We can change Poland'
"We can change Poland," Duda said with his wife and grown daughter by his side. After his speech the family and the crowd sang the national anthem.
Polish presidents have fewer powers than prime ministers and their governments, but the president does represent the nation internationally and helps set a political and moral tone at home.
During the campaign Duda often spoke of the more than two million Poles who have left the country in the past decade for Britain and other countries in Western Europe.
Most people "have not benefited from the economic change," said Marcin Wolski, a well-known satirist at Law and Justice's election night gathering in Warsaw. "Poland needs change and Duda is the sign of the change that Poland needs."