May 9, 2015 4:28 AM

Motley mix of players challenge Polish president in election

The Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) The incumbent is an aristocrat who embodies Polish tradition. His challengers include a punk rock star, a blonde bombshell actress and a renegade vodka producer who once wielded a gun at a press conference.

Poland's presidential elections Sunday have a colorful cast of candidates whose antics are providing most of the drama, because there's little suspense about the result: President Bronislaw Komorowski expected to easily win re-election.

Komorowski, a popular leader aligned with the ruling center-right Civic Platform party, won office in 2010 after his predecessor, Lech Kaczynski, died in a plane crash.

His time in office has been marked by general harmony with his allies in government. He has long enjoyed high approval ratings, though some voters seem to be growing bored by him and Civic Platform, which has been in power since 2007. That has given a boost to the anti-establishment candidates, most of all for the punk rocker Pawel Kukiz pronounced like "cookies" who used to perform in a band called "Breasts."

If no candidate wins at least 50 percent on Sunday, a runoff will be held on May 24. The presidency carries many ceremonial duties, with most power in the hands of the government. However, the president is also officially the commander-in-chief and has the power to propose and veto legislation.

The election will also be a test for political parties ahead of parliamentary elections this fall.

Until January, Komorowski had polled well above 50 percent. But the most recent surveys now predict he will take about 40 percent of the vote Sunday, significantly more than any of his challengers but not enough to avoid a runoff.

Despite its colorful characters, the campaign has been strangely uneventful. Many Poles have decried a campaign that seems lacking in real options for voters and at times has descended into farce.

"We are being served third-rate theater instead of real elections," prominent Polish film director Agnieszka Holland lamented in a TV interview last weekend.

Wojciech Szacki, an analyst with Polityka Insight, a Warsaw-based center for policy analysis, says that there have always been "unserious candidates" running in Polish presidential elections alongside heavyweights like Lech Walesa. What's new, he said, is that against Komorowski "there are no serious candidates at all."

The reason is that no potentially serious challenger wanted to face defeat by running against a president certain to win re-election, Szacki said.

The second-most popular leader in the race is Andrzej Duda of Law and Justice, the nationalist party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the surviving twin brother of the late president. Jaroslaw Kaczynski was himself defeated by Komorowski in the 2010 presidential election, held shortly after his brother's death. A conservative who says his values are in line with those of the late Polish pope St. John Paul II, he has taken a strong position against in-vitro fertilization, a position Komorowski attacked in a recent campaign ad.

The third-most popular candidate is the punk rock star Kukiz. Describing himself as a "right-wing man with a left-wing heart," he has positioned himself as the anti-establishment favorite. He has polled at above 10 percent recently.

One candidate who has captured more attention than respect is Magdalena Ogorek, the 36-year-old candidate for the Democratic Left Alliance. Though she has a doctorate in history, the former actress and TV presenter has no real political experience and many commentators have dismissed her as a lightweight. She has not helped her own cause, appearing recently at a fashion show wearing a decidedly un-presidential outfit: a flimsy petticoat-style dress with straps that ended well above the knees.

Soon hundreds of people clicked on a Facebook page titled "I will vote for Magdalena Ogorek if she shows her breasts." Another left-wing candidate made headlines when he "liked" the page, later apologizing and saying he did so by accident. She polls around 3 or 4 percent.

Another attention-getter has been Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a far-right member of the European Parliament who has compared the EU to the Third Reich. Last year he caused outrage by using racist language in Parliament.

Janusz Palikot, the head of a left-wing party, is a vodka tycoon who has called for the legalization of marijuana. A few years ago, he waved a pistol and dildo at a news conference to protest an alleged police rape.

Several candidates don't even have 1 percent support. Among them is a far-right candidate, Grzegorz Braun, who claimed in a presidential debate on Tuesday that Poland is being ruled by Germans, Russians and Jews.

"The biggest political parties in Poland have played a trick on voters, exposing them to actors instead of real candidates," Holland said. "Some play better, others more clumsily, but generally speaking, this is not a normal presidential campaign."


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