It is the evening of the election that many have said will determine the future of Poland. The exit poll, given at 21:00, showed the two candidates – incumbent Andrzej Duda and the Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski – separated by 0.8 percentage points.
This record-breaking closeness between the two candidates left all Polish citizens at the edge of their seat, near to the television, no matter which candidate one supported. The mobilisation of the Polish population in these polarising elections is reflected yet again with rarely so high turnout rates of 68.2%.
For those supporting the nationalist Andrzej Duda, the defence of Polish ‘family values’ against the “imported ideology” of LGBTQ+ rights as the incumbent claimed that this threat was worse than communism. The President’s harsh language of equalising sex education and teaching of LGBTQ+ rights in schools to paedophilia worked to inflame his base in the mainly Catholic country.
President Duda and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party supporting him have been popular in rural Poland in particular with their programme of 500zł+ (approx. £100). This gives financial aid to families per child, irrespective of income, and has helped alleviate the feelings of being left behind by the previous government as well as lifting many out of poverty. Those above the age of 65 have also been reliable supporters of the government following the lowering of the age of retirement.
For those ‘holding their thumbs’ – the Polish version of crossing our fingers – for the liberal candidate Rafał Trzaskowski, many hoped to “wake up in a new country” as his wife, Małgorzata Trzaskowska said the evening of the election. Although Trzaskowski is against the right of same-sex couples to adopt children of their own, he did sign a tolerance declaration for members of the LGBTQ+ community last year. The Warsaw Mayor also expressed his support for the 500zł+ programme.
As Poles around the world woke up, the results from 99.98% of districts showed that Duda had won 51.1% of the votes with Trzaskowski closely following with 48.9% of the vote (with a 1% margin of error).
From the first round of voting, Trzaskowski has gained seven counties leaving him with ten in which he won a majority to the Duda’s six.
These results paint a picture of a deeply divided nation. The most obvious division is between those who see Poland’s future as independent, wishing to strengthen Polish values to the detriment of a partnership with the European Union – in which Poland is the largest recipient of funds – and those who want Poland to grow in the European Union and see the country as part of the Western, liberally democratic, world.
However, there is also a third division making up just under a third of the population – those who did not turn out to vote, seemingly seeing the current state of affairs as not affecting them.
The ruling party will now continue to rule until 2023 with a majority in the lower – and more important – house of parliament, Sejm, without restraint from a Presidential veto. Fears are mounting on the opposition to this government about freedom of the press, the continued infringement on the sovereignty of courts, and, of course, the basic rights of equality so fundamental to liberal democracies.
Although the President claims that he regrets none of the inflammatory rhetoric used during his campaign, the eve of the election saw him backtrack on some of his statements. The President spoke to his supporters of the right of all to live normally, even given an anecdote later of how he failed to realise that his neighbours were a gay couple, claiming that they were completely “respectful” people and their presence did not offend him.
The President even brought out his 25-year-old daughter, Kinga, who is a Law graduate living in London and has not previously been outspoken about politics. In her speech, she emphasised that no one should be afraid of leaving their home, that irrespective of the colour of our skin or who we love, we are equal.
Her appearance at the rally could be viewed as a switch in the President’s rhetoric as in the second term a president no longer needs to rely on his party so heavily and Duda proclaimed that in a second term the president answers only to God.
However, many are sceptical of such an about-turn – Duda’s words and those of his daughter can be viewed as simply a bid to appeal to younger voters (which PiS can not hope to win the next general elections without) which the incumbent did poorly among and stop the waves of criticisms labelling his presidency as divisive.
This is especially so following his wife addressing the media during this event, pointing to how they have previously reported her lack of engagement in politics to which she responded that she has spent the last four years talking to the Polish people. Again, such worked to produce a divide between “real” Poles and those who engage with media besides the state-funded TVP (Polish Television) which has been labelled by many critics as a propaganda tool.
And so, the future of the Polish nation seems all but decided. The Law and Justice party will now be uninhibited in continuing to move Poland away from the EU – both in terms of their membership in the union as well as on fundamental values. So far, the president has and continues to show little intention of being the president for the whole of Poland rather than solely his 51.1% of the electorate.