Since The Oxford Blue last reported on the presidential elections in Poland, the playing field has changed significantly: incumbent President Andrzej Duda will face Rafał Trzaskowski, the Mayor of Warsaw, in the second round of voting.
The election, scheduled for May 10th, was pushed back as coronavirus made its way across the country, forcing the hand of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).
The ruling party caved in reluctantly after extensive attempts to make the majority of votes postal in order to ride the rising tide of support for President Duda in the early days of the pandemic.
Therefore, the first round of voting happened this weekend – and the candidate field has changed somewhat since May. Most notably, the candidate of the main opposition party – Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska of the Civic Platform (CO) – pulled out of the race and was replaced by Trzaskowski, who represents the left-leaning wing of the centrist party.
In addition to this, the League of Polish Families, who currently have no representatives in the Sejm nor the Senate, put up Krzysztof Bosak as their candidate.
The remaining candidates included journalist Szymon Hołownia (marking his debut into the political arena as an independent candidate), Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, for the Polish People’s Party (PSL), and Robert Biedroń, representing the newest party, Left Together (Lewica Razem), formed in 2015.
Bosak is a far-right nationalist and eurosceptic, criticising the right-wing parties of Europe for no longer standing for conservative values. He extends this criticism to the Law and Justice Party and, after coming in fourth with 6.8% of the vote, has said he will not endorse Andrzej Duda in the second round of elections.
Trzaszkowski is presented as the liberal candidate, used for better or – as is more often the case – for worse by PiS. During his mayoral term, Trzaszkowski increased funding for Warsaw’s in vitro programmes, improved the city’s public transport, and signed what is known as the LGBT+ Declaration to fight discrimination.
This view on LGBTQ+ rights stands in stark contrast to that embodied by President Duda and the Law and Justice party. In the last few weeks of the race, Duda has vowed to fight against the “LGBT ideology”, as the party has previously pointed to members of the LGBTQ+ community as part of the “dark disease”. The intensification of this rhetoric can be read as a last-minute effort to further polarise the country and works off of a survey which found that the biggest threat to Poland in the eyes of men under 40 was “the LGBT movement and gender ideology”.
Despite the election occurring in the middle of a pandemic and queues requiring voters to wait for hours in the middle of a heatwave, turnout in this election reached 64.4% – an increase from 49% in the 2015 elections and the highest turnout seen for a quarter of a century. With 99.8% of polling districts reporting, the incumbent president received 43.7% of the vote with Trzaskowski winning 30.3%.
Failing to reach the 50% threshold, which would have given Duda a direct ticket back to the Presidential Palace, the elections will move to their second round of voting as the people of Poland decide between the incumbent and Mr Trzaskowski.
In a poll taken by the independent news network TVN24, 45.4% of respondents answered that they would vote for the incumbent president in this second vote, whilst 44.7% would give their vote to Trzaskowski.
This leaves 9.9% not convinced by either candidate, two weeks away from the second round of voting. Both candidates will be competing for those voters who are neither strongly for nor against the ruling party. Here, Trzaskowski seems to be in a better position.
Compared to support levels from 2019 when PiS’s support was at 43.6%, President Duda matched this with the 43.7% he received in this first round of voting. In comparison, Trzaskowski’s 30.3% outweighs PO’s 27.4% support levels in 2019, suggesting that there is a weaker association with the largest opposition party.
Trzaskowski may be better suited to bringing in undecided voters and those who voted for the remaining centre and leftist parties if their candidates rally support against the Law and Justice Party.
Where some have pointed to the turnout of 64.4% as a reflection of the polarization of the last five years, Duda points to it as a sign of a healthy democracy and a source of great pride in the achievements of his first term. Speaking at a rally on Monday, Duda emphasised his support of both young and old with programmes such as exemptions from income tax until 26 years of age in addition to lowering of the retirement age as well as the 500zł+ and 300zł+ programmes which lend financial support to families.
The popularity of such programmes cannot be understated. Especially in rural Poland where feelings of being left behind by the PO government and the EU continue to fuel support for PiS, Duda won 55.9% of the vote whilst Trzaskowski received only 19.9%. This attraction is highlighted in the Subcarpathian voivodeship, where 61% of citizens voted for the incumbent.
In cities, this trend is reversed. In urban areas with over 500,000 residents, Trzaskowski received 47.3% of the votes whilst President Duda held only 25.2%. Duda, however, proves to be popular with ‘Polonia’ – those who live outside the country – winning both in Canada and the U.S. and proving that the incumbent’s visit to meet President Trump last week was not a wasted plane ticket.
Overlooking the fact that food prices have inflated by some 6.9% since President Duda won the presidency from PO’s Bronisław Komorowski in 2015 – for reference, the UK’s same rate is only 1.4% in this time – Duda told his supporters to talk to those who remember life pre-2015 and compare how much better life is now. Of course, although rural life may be better for some, those who cannot be bought off and value LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, as well as many in Europe, may give an answer that surprises the President of Poland.
For many, the 2020 election is a call for change – whether an end to Law and Justice’s attacks on judges and human rights or, conversely, an intensification of nationalistic rhetoric . The second round of voting will reveal just how far PiS has burrowed its polarising rhetoric into the Polish consciousness.
The results of this election will show whether the majority will continue to accept a president only for them, excluding and discriminating against the minority, rather than voting for a president for all of Poland.
(NB: registration, for those not already registered from the first round, for the second round of Presidential elections closes at midnight tonight, June 29th)