Monday 24 October 2016

New president of Poland is 'a threat to democracy'

Matthew Day in Warsaw

Published 26/05/2015 | 02:30

Andrzej Duda
Andrzej Duda

Poland is on "the velvet road to dictatorship" after the victory of nationalist leader Andrzej Duda in Sunday's presidential elections, a respected former anti-communist dissident warned yesterday.

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Mr Duda, a eurosceptic 43-year-old lawyer belonging to the socially conservative Law and Justice party, defeated President Bronislaw Komorowski with 51.5pc of the vote, having campaigned on pledges of greater welfare spending and a reduction in the retirement age.

His party has spoken of the need to make wholesale changes to purge Poland of corruption and the legacy of its communist past.

Adam Michnik, a prominent Solidarity activist who was imprisoned by Poland's communist government, said he feared Law and Justice's success could pose a threat to democracy in the country.

Mr Michnik's warning was echoed by Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, a former Polish prime minister, who said a Law and Justice victory swaddled the country in "all the prejudices and obsessions of the Fourth Republic".

The warnings reflected anxiety felt by some in Poland that Mr Duda's victory could herald a repeat of the political instability and fraught foreign relations that bedevilled the country the last time Law and Justice was in power.

President Lech Kaczynski, one of the party's founders, enjoyed prickly and difficult relations with both Germany and Russia before dying in an air crash in western Russia in 2010.

Describing himself as the "spiritual heir" to Mr Kaczynski, Mr Duda (below) has signalled that he is willing to take an assertive role in foreign policy and one reflecting his predecessor's nationalistic and Eurosceptic character.

Although much power in Poland rests with the government, the president oversees foreign policy, and he can set its tone with visits and speeches.

"Today we have the right to speak in the European Union with a firm voice," he said while on the campaign trail. "It's time to step out of flow of mainstream foreign policies. We need to regain our strength." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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