WARSAW — The largely unexpected victory by opposition candidate Andrzej Duda in the second round of Poland's recent presidential elections could shift the country's military priorities and create more friction with Russia.
Duda is set to replace incumbent President Bronislaw Komorowski from the ruling Civic Platform (PO) Party, which has been governing Poland since 2007.
Duda's whose Law and Justice (PiS) Party is seen by many analysts as staunchly anti-Russian and pro-US.
During his campaign, Duda criticized Komorowski and his party's government for its recent decision to award Poland's multibillion-dollar military helicopter deal to Airbus Helicopters.
"This amount of money is huge, and the contract should be implemented in a way which would maximize its benefits for the Polish society," Duda said in a televised broadcast April 22.
In late April, the Ministry of Defense announced it selected the Caracal EC-725 to replace the Polish military's Soviet-designed Mil Mi-8, Mi-14 and Mi-17 copters. However, according to Duda, Poland should instead opt for Sikorsky's Black Hawk or AgustaWestland's AW149, as both manufacturers operate Poland-based subsidiaries — PZL Mielec and PZL Swidnik, respectively — and employ local workers.
The Defense Ministry, however, dismissed bids by the US and Anglo-Italian consortia, as they "were not in compliance with the formal and technical requirements," according to the ministry.
Local newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported that the helo procurement is estimated to be worth up to 10 billion zloty (US $2.8 billion).
During his campaign, the president-elect has called for overhauling Poland's defense policy. And while the level of military spending is determined by the Polish parliament and acquisitions are made by the country's Defense Ministry, the president plays an important role in Poland's defense policy.
Among other roles, he is the commander in chief of the armed forces, and he nominates the chief of the General Staff and other top military commanders, as well as the head of the National Security Bureau. The president also has the right to veto any bill passed by the parliament, which provides him with a powerful tool to influence of impacting on all defense-related legislation.
In February, in a policy speech at local think tank Liberty Institute, Duda outlined his defense priorities. in the field of defense.
"Poland needs a very well-equipped military which will be able to effectively deter, so that every [potential aggressor] thinks four times before taking military action against Poland," Duda said. "The second topic is the question of its armament. I have a deep conviction that the reconstruction of the military potential of the Polish military ... should be based on Polish production. This is also an element of my concept, the economic reconstruction of Poland."
Duda has also called for further increasing military cooperation with the US, which indicates that he could push for awarding major defense contracts, such as the latest helicopter procurement, to US defense companies.
Defense Spending To Rise
Meanwhile, recent developments show there is exists a political consensus in Poland on the need to gradually increase the level of the country's military expenditure. On May 27, the parliament decided to increase the defense budget for 2016 by 800 million zloty to 2 percent of Poland's gross domestic product, (GDP), up from 1.95 percent. The measure was passed by a robust majority of 402 votes, with two members voting against it and two abstentions.
The plan to raise military spending was announced by the government of Ewa Kopacz, who took over as Poland's prime minister in September 2014, but it was also supported by the opposition members of parliament from Duda's party.
"Russia's military intervention in Crimea is the main reason behind the increased emphasis on defense by virtually all Polish political parties," said professor Marek Jablonowski, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw. "Poles increasingly fear Russian military activities in Eastern Europe, and politicians are reacting to this."
Poland's difficult relations with Russia have played a major role in the country's political life. Komorowski became Poland's president in 2010 following an election held in the aftermath of a plane crash close to Smolensk, Russia, in which the country's then-President Lech Kaczyński died along with 95 other crew members and passengers, including senior political and military officials. In the subsequent vote, Komorowski, who then served as the parliament speaker, faced Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the PiS party and Lech Kaczyński's brother.
Local observers said the 2010 plane crash was fundamental to shaping Poland's current political scene. Jarosław Kaczyński, saying that his brother's vehement anti-Kremlin stance had made him an enemy of Moscow, has suggested on numerous occasions that Russian authorities, particularly President Vladimir Putin, are to be blamed for the crash.
The ruling Civic Platform PO Party, which accepted that the crash was an accident, had initially tried to cooperate with the Russian authorities on the investigation. investigating , But after since Russia's military intervention in Ukraine and Moscow's takeover of the Crimean peninsula, Warsaw toughened its stance on the Kremlin, calling for the introduction of sanctions by the EU.
With Duda's election, Warsaw's relations with Moscow could become even more difficult, stringent, local analysts said.