WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish President Andrzej Duda has won five years in power on a deeply conservative platform following a closely fought election that is likely to deepen the country’s isolation in the European Union.
Polish President and Presidential Candidate for Law and Justice (PiS) Party Andrzej Duda speaks after announcing the results of the first exit poll during the second round of the presidential election in Pultusk, Poland, July 12, 2020. REUTERS / Kacper Pempel
Nearly final results from Sunday’s presidential election put him at more than 51%, giving him an inaccessible lead over Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who won nearly 49% of the vote, the National Election Commission said.
Duda is allied with the ruling Nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, and his victory will give the government a new mandate to implement judicial and media reforms that the executive European commission says are subject to democratic standards.
“I don’t want to speak on behalf of the campaign staff, but I think this difference is big enough for us to accept the result,” Grzegorz Schetyna, former head of the opposition group Civic Platform, who put Trzaskowski.
With support from PiS, Duda ran an erroneous campaign, laced with homophobic language, attacks on private media and allegations that Trzaskowski was serving foreign interests instead of Poland. Trzaskowski dismissed the charges.
Duda’s victory opens the way for new conflicts between Poland and the European Commission as the EU tries to deal with the economic downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising nationalism throughout the 27-member bloc.
Before PiS and Duda came to power in 2015, Poland had one of the most pro-European administrations in the bloc’s ex-communist east. But it has become increasingly contentious, with divisions focusing on climate change and migration, in addition to democratic norms.
Warsaw mayor since 2018, Trzaskowski had said he would seek a more tolerant Poland if elected. He has criticized PiS ‘rhetoric and promised to abolish the state news channel TVP Info, which critics say gave open support to Duda in its programming.
But for many religious conservatives in Poland, a predominantly Catholic nation, he came to represent the threats that traditional values face when he promised to introduce education on LGBT rights in the city’s schools.
“That’s what populists do very effectively. You name the enemy and you focus on fighting him. This is what was used in this campaign, the fear of others, “Anna Materska-Sosnowska, political scientist at the University of Warsaw.
During the last campaign week, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski accused Trzaskowski of being at the center of attempts to allow minorities to “terrorize” the rest of society.
Economic policy was also at the heart of the election, where Duda painted himself as a guardian of generous PiS welfare programs that have changed the lives of many poorer Poles since the party came to power in 2015.
PiS now faces the prospect of three years of uninterrupted governance with the next parliamentary elections scheduled for 2023.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro suggested late Sunday that the party could quickly continue with its conservative agenda after the vote and with its ambition to stimulate changes in private media owners towards stores that are more favorable to their ambitions.
“We have to deal with the issue of values more than before,” he told the state broadcaster TVP. “It’s also the issue of media imbalance.”
Some observers say that Trzaskowski’s strong showing could give rise to the energy, which has so far struggled to formulate a coherent story for PiS’s success in winning many poles with its economic and social agenda.
(This story has been refilled to fix typos in the second paragraph)
Writing by Justyna Pawlak; editing of Timothy Heritage