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Poland readies for a second round of a presidential election

After a highly contested first round, candidates Andrzej Duda and Rafał Trzaskowski will go head-to-head on July 12th for the presidency.

June 30, 2020 - Daniel Gleichgewicht - Articles and Commentary

Presidential palace in Warsaw. Photo: Jorge Láscar flickr.com

On Sunday June 28th, millions of Poles went to vote in a presidential election against the backdrop of a pandemic, flooding and heat. The election, originally scheduled for May 10th, had been postponed as the safety and democratic character of the vote had been questioned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The State Electoral Commission was already alluding towards a record turnout during Sunday afternoon as 24 per cent of the voters eligible to take part had already cast their vote by 12pm. The final historic turnout standing at 64.51 per cent indicates a polarising election campaign, the mobilisation of large segments of the society and a growing participation in the democratic process.

From the eleven candidates registered, two received a clear mandate to participate in a run-off scheduled for July 12th. The incumbent, President Andrzej Duda, associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) received 43.5 per cent of the vote. He will face the current mayor of Warsaw and candidate of the main opposition party the Civic Coalition (KO), Rafał Trzaskowski who received 30.46 per cent of the votes in the first round.

The third place was taken by Szymon Hołownia, an independent candidate who received 13.87 per cent of the vote. He had been running on an anti-establishment platform underlining his independence from the party politics of PiS and KO. Many observers believe his movement and subsequent result could lead to the appearance of a new force in Polish politics.

Krzysztof Bosak of the Confederation – a far right party received 6.78 per cent of the vote. He had managed to attract a younger electoral base with some 25 per cent aged 18-29 casting their ballot for him.

The elections were a massive disappointment to both Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz of the Polish Coalition (2.36 per cent) and Robert Biedroń from the Left party (2.22 per cent). The Polish Coalition, largely made up of the agrarian Polish People’s Party had received over 8 per cent in the 2019 parliamentary election, while the Left noticed an even larger drop in votes as they had enjoyed support above 12 per cent.

International observers have indicated that the vote was fair and well organised. However the conduct of state media has been critisised as biased towards the ruling president.

The run up to the first round of the elections was dominated by a discussion on values, but also on the merits of the two post-Solidarity movements that have dominated the last 15 years of Polish politics. President Duda tried to rally his voters reminding of PiS’s social policies, their stance on LGBT issues, abortion and his high standing with President Donald Trump. This was clear as Duda visited the White House just days before the vote. On the other hand, the main opposition candidate Rafał Trzaskowski focused more on the consequences of the pandemic, women’s rights and a closer relationship with the European Union. It remains to be seen if these themes will continue in the two weeks ahead of the second vote. Both remaining candidates have already made overtures to Hołownia and Bosak as they had managed to gather millions of votes.

Another noticeable fact of these elections has been the clear division both geographic and demographic. Smaller towns, villages and older populations were more inclined to vote for President Duda, while larger cities and women would vote for the challenger Rafał Trzaskowski. Duda dominated the easternmost voivodships, while Trzaskowski held a majority in the voivodships that border Germany and the Baltic Sea.

It remains to be seen if the turnout can be upheld in the second round and who it would ultimately benefit. Andrzej Duda might have a significant weapon at his disposal in the state media apparatus which confirms the entrenched views of his electorate. Rafał Trzaskowski could play on the same strings Duda did five years ago against Bronisław Komorowski as he is the challenger and Duda the resident of the palace this time around.

The final result will have major implications for Poland and the entire region. This is the last election in a cycle that has covered local, European, parliamentary and presidential votes. After this there will be a three year period without any elections. This could mean a strong mandate for PiS to continue their spree of significant changes to the Polish state and institutions. A victory of the opposition could lead to a form of balance of power, but could also lead to potential paralysis of the state as was seen a decade ago when Donald Tusk was prime minister and Lech Kaczyński president. The polls ahead of the second round point towards a dramatically close result encouraging the candidates to fight for every single vote.

Daniel Gleichgewicht is an editor with New Eastern Europe.


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