Poles Hand President Komorowski Shock Defeat in First-Round

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Polish leader Bronislaw Komorowski is facing an uphill battle to save his presidency after a shock defeat in the first round of elections.

Komorowski’s support has melted from more than 60 percent three months ago to 32.2 percent in Sunday’s vote, slipping behind opposition candidate Andrzej Duda, who got 34.8 percent, according to an exit poll by polling company Ipsos. They will face each other in a May 24 runoff.

That gives Komorowski two weeks to recapture the momentum and turn around a campaign that’s turned into a referendum on his Civic Platform party’s eight-year rule. Komorowski will have to find a way to counter Duda’s push built around criticizing the country’s economic growth leaving swaths of society behind. Financial markets, which have paid little attention to the ballot, face a period of “intensifying uncertainty,” according to an economist at PKO Bank Polski SA.

“It’s a gigantic red card for Komorowski and the ruling party,” Bartlomiej Biskup, a political scientist at the Warsaw University, said by phone. “This slump in support reflects the electorate’s sentiment that the ruling party doesn’t listen to their needs and ignores them.”

While Komorowski made security the centerpiece of his reelection bid, Duda, 20 years his junior, countered by putting the spotlight on economic issues. Even as Poland’s economy is set to grow more than 3 percent for a second year, unemployment stubbornly remains above 11 percent, boosting sentiment that the poorer and less educated are missing out on the recovery.

‘Serious Warning’

With his youthful appearance and rapid delivery, Duda has railed against the government’s decision to increase the retirement age to 67, pledging to offset the bigger budget outlays with new revenues from big business including banks and foreign supermarket chains.

“Today, Poland needs to be repaired in many areas,” Duda, standing next to his wife and daughter, told a roaring crowd of well-wishers in Warsaw following the exit poll announcement. “To have a good life in a secure Poland, we must fix health-care, the economy and education through social dialog -- to improve the everyday life of Poles.”

Komorowski, 62, was projected to end up with no more than 40 percent, while Duda was supported by about 30 percent of voters, according to six polls published before a blackout began Friday. In his speech after the exit polls were released, Komorowski said the results were a “serious warning” that those in power need to listen to voters more.

Looming Change

Poland is picking a president in a vote that will set the stage for parliamentary elections this fall, with Law and Justice looking to end the Civic Platform’s eight-year rule.

Komorowski, who polls show is the most trusted politician in the nation of 38 million, struggled to match his rival’s energy on issues ranging from euro adoption to relations with Russia against the backdrop of the conflict in neighboring Ukraine. The zloty, which hit an almost four-year high last month, has weakened in past weeks along with government bonds, amid a sell off on European debt markets.

“We’ll face intensifying uncertainty about the future changes; that uncertainty will clearly impact the financial markets,” Piotr Bujak, a senior economist at PKO, Poland’s largest bank, said by phone on Sunday. “Changes on the political scene are no longer only potential, they are becoming increasingly realistic.”

Punk Rocker

Poland’s president can veto legislation, acts as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and has say in foreign policy, while the separately elected parliament passes laws and elects a government. Whoever wins will also get to appoint two members of the central bank’s rate-setting panel in the first quarter and its governor in June 2016.

Pawel Kukiz, a former punk band frontman running as an independent, was third with 20.3 percent, according to the exit poll conducted by Warsaw-based Ipsos for Polish television stations. Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a libertarian, got 4.4 percent and Magdalena Ogorek of the Democratic Left Alliance candidate received 2.4 percent.

Official results will be announced Tuesday and there won’t be partial results published, Election Commission chief Wojciech Hermelinski told reporters in Warsaw on Friday.