Presidential Election in Poland: Trzaskowski – Liberal Alternative to Duda

The first round of the presidential elections in Poland on Sunday confirmed what the opinion polls in recent weeks had predicted: firstly, although the incumbent President Andrzej Duda, candidate of the ruling national conservative party “Law and Justice” (PiS), received the largest share of the votes cast (43.7 %), it was clearly not enough for re-election in the first round. Second, his challenger for the run-off vote will be the liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, candidate of the largest opposition alliance “Civic Coalition” (KO). According to current polls, the second round will be extremely close.

“Today’s result clearly shows that 58% of society wants change. I want to tell these citizens today very clearly that I am your candidate for change,” said Trzaskowski after the publication of the initial forecasts. The results of this presidential election clearly show that Poland’s democracy is alive and strong, and that Trzaskowski as modern candidate, who is also supported by the liberal Polish forces, has a real chance of becoming president.

The elections are being closely monitored throughout Europe, as the ruling party PiS has come into conflict with the EU on several occasions in the past five years because of its controversial reforms of the judiciary and the media. Duda’s main rival now promises to repair relations with Brussels. In his own words, he wants to “fight for a strong state, to fight for democracy”.

Now the run-off election is due to take place on 12 July. Even according to the latest polls the race between Duda and Trzaskowski would be extremely balanced and without clear favourites. There is a lot at stake: Which direction will Poland take in the coming years? The Polish president has a right of veto and the PiS does not currently have a three-fifths majority in the Sejm to override the veto. Duda’s defeat would therefore seriously affect the PiS’ ability to push through its controversial reforms.

Trzaskowski Receives Over 30% of the Votes

According to provisional results, after counting 99% of the votes, Trzaskowski came second with 30.3%. Other candidates follow at a clear distance: the independent Szymon Hołownia (13.9%), the nationalist candidate Krysztof Bosak (6.9%), the leader of the Polish People’s Party Władysław Marcin Kosiniak-Kamysz (2.4%) and the representative of the Left Robert Biedroń (2.2%). The third placed Hołownia announced earlier that he would support Trzaskowski against Duda in the second round. The State Election Commission PKW will publish the final election results by Wednesday evening.

Voter turnout was high despite the Corona pandemic, at 64.4%. Special protective regulations applied in the polling stations.

Duda’s Electoral Campaign in the White House

Duda, who was still hoping for re-election in the first round at the beginning of May, tightened the tone of his election campaign due to the declining preferences in recent weeks. To make himself clear against Trzaskowski, who openly pleads for greater support and tolerance for sexual minorities in strictly Catholic Poland, Duda highlighted the LGBT issue several times during the election campaign.

His statement that the “LGBT ideology” was a form of “neo-Bolshevism” was met with fierce criticism. According to observers, Duda wanted to use the sharp rhetoric to present himself as a defender of the traditional family picture and thus mobilize voters from the conservative camp. However, this strategy did not prove successful. According to surveys, in the face of the Corona crisis, Poles are much more interested in issues such as the economic situation or healthcare security than in LGBT.

To boost his prospects for re-election, Duda surprisingly announced just a few days before the election that US President Donald Trump would officially receive him as the first foreign statesman since the beginning of the global corona ban. After Trump announced his intention to withdraw thousands of American soldiers from Germany earlier this month, some Polish leaders expressed the hope that the US military presence in Poland could be strengthened. This was precisely one of the issues that was at the heart of the meeting at the White House last Wednesday.

However, the visit has not yet brought about a major turnaround in the election campaign. Despite flowery phrases and joint photos of the two heads of state, the meeting did not lead to any concrete results and Duda had to return home without clear promises: “Some [soldiers] will come home. Some [soldiers] will be transferred to other countries. And Poland could be one of those places,” Trump said in a joint press conference with Duda in Washington. But the media are pointing out that it remains unclear how many soldiers, when and for how much money should come to Poland.

Challenger Trzaskowski

The popular Warsaw mayor Trzaskowski did not join the election campaign until mid-May, but he set the tone from the beginning. The 48-year-old politician of the opposition Civic Platform (PO) and former European Minister is a feared opponent of the PiS. In the Polish local elections in 2018, he won out over PiS candidate Patryk Jaki in the first round and was elected Mayor of Warsaw.

Already at the beginning of the current campaign, Trzaskowski had to prove that he can quickly mobilize his supporters. In order to run in the elections, he had to collect 100,000 supporters’ signatures in seven days. The lower house of parliament, the Sejm, which is controlled by the PiS, rejected the Senate proposal that the new candidates, like Trzaskowski, had at least 10 days to collect signatures.

Trzaskowski mastered the first challenge splendidly: within a few days he collected more than 1.6 million signatures and quickly became the greatest challenger to the incumbent Duda.

In recent weeks, the mayor of Warsaw, who is known for his liberal views, had to withstand the energetic PiS anti-campaign. When Duda tried to marginalize him with the LGBT issue, Trzaskowski reacted with restraint and prudence. The fight for moderate Catholic voters in the run-off vote might be decisive. At the same time, he promised to make a wise move to maintain the popular social programs of the conservative PiS government.

Natálie Maráková

Project Manager, FNF Central Europe and the Baltic States