Poland’s presidential election this year proved to be the most heated contest Poles have experienced in recent years. Not only has the nation been crippled by the effects of the coronavirus, but the election was also held against the backdrop of widespread flooding. It was also originally scheduled for May 10, but it had to be postponed due to COVID-19.
The final historic turnout stood at 64.51 percent, which shows that there is a growing interest in the country’s democratic process.
PiS Stormed Ahead in the First Round
Out of the eleven candidates who registered to stand in the general election, only two received a clear mandate to participate in a second vote scheduled for July 12th. President Andrzej Duda, the incumbent associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), received 43.5 percent of the vote. He will face Rafał Trzaskowski, the Mayor of Warsaw. The latter received 30.46 percent of the vote during the first election and he is the candidate for the main opposition party, which call themselves the Civic Coalition (KO).
During the first vote, Duda attempted to rally his voters behind PiS’s social policies, including their stance on LGBT issues, with the incumbent President describing LGBT rights as an “ideology” more destructive than communism and abortion. He also highlighted his high-standing with President Trump.
The US President even endorsed Duda when the latter went to Washington to visit one of his closest allies. “He’s doing a terrific job,” Trump commented.
Meanwhile, Trzaskowski concentrated more on COVID-19’s consequences, women’s rights and maintaining a close relationship with the EU.
Duda Had the State Media on His Side
Duda’s first and only victory so far has demonstrated the incumbent President’s ability to manipulate the state media into supporting him. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized the conduct of Duda’s campaign. Its statement read that state broadcaster TVP served “as a campaign tool” for the President, and some of its reporting contained “xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.” By referring to Trzaskowski as ‘a threat to Polish values and interests’, it failed in its duty to be impartial.
However, Gazeta Wyborcza reports that TVP suffered a stunning defeat as it failed to prevent Trzaskowski from soaring to second place. According to BBC News, even conservative daily Rzeczpospolita admitted that PiS support has been mobilized to the limit, which means Duda may have to build bridges with KO at some stage.
Holding the presidential election in June worked to KO’s advantage. If the vote had been held in May, the incumbent President would have stood a better chance of winning in the first round as he was riding high in the opinion polls then. If there is one lesson that Duda needs to learn from this election, then it is that he needs to broaden his base of support to win in the future.
Duda Must Broaden His Support to Win
The New Statesman’s Annabelle Chapman argues that the independent candidate Szymon Hołownia, who came a clear third during the first election, could provide Trzaskowski with the largest reserve of additional votes due to his campaign for “modern solidarity.” Trzaskowski could even eat into the support of right-wing nationalist Krzysztof Bosak, who came fourth, as he shares economic views which are similar to Bosak’s. This is despite the fact that many of the latter’s supporters may vote for Duda.
This could result in an extremely close result that will have major implications for Poland. Daniel Gleichgewicht of the New Eastern Europe highlights that a victory for the opposition could lead to a potential paralysis of the state as PiS hold the largest number of seats in Poland’s parliament. The President has the power to veto legislation, and a KO victory could thwart PiS’s parliamentary agenda.
If Duda wants to prevent such an outcome, he needs to broaden his image to win a vaster array of voters, and fast.