Polish President Andrzej Duda failed to win enough of the vote to avoid a runoff, according to exit polls, forcing him into what is expected to be a tightly fought contest with the liberal mayor of Warsaw.
Tight race likely between conservative president, liberal Warsaw mayor
Polish President Andrzej Duda failed to win enough of the vote in Sunday’s election to avoid a runoff, according to exit polls, forcing him into what is expected to be a tightly fought contest with the liberal mayor of Warsaw next month.
Duda, the candidate of the governing populist Law and Justice party, was on track to win 41.8 percent of the vote, according to the polls, while Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski is expected to win 30.4 percent. He needed a majority to win outright. Turnout was high, at 62.9 percent.
Although Duda came out ahead on Sunday, analysts expect that to change in the runoff election in two weeks, as opposition voters whose support was split in the first round unite around Trzaskowski.
“It will be close,” said Malgorzata Bonikowska, president of the Warsaw-based Center for International Relations. “People are voting for two different Polands. They are like fire and water.”
The vote could reshape Poland’s relationship with Europe. Duda has been a figurehead for the Law and Justice political program that has put it on a collision course with the European Union. Brussels accuses the government of threatening the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Trzaskowski, a former member of the European Parliament who speaks seven languages, is known to have more amicable relations with Brussels.
Speaking at a jubilant election night event, Trzaskowski said the choice for voters would be between an “open Poland” and one that is “looking for an enemy,” with a president who is trying to divide.
Duda, at his event, maintained that his advantage was “enormous” and said the choice was between “development” and a deterioration of the lives of normal Poles under the opposition. Social benefits for families have been a major pillar of Law and Justice policy.
The vote had been slated for May. Law and Justice wanted to keep to that schedule despite the country’s coronavirus outbreak. Poland has reported more than 33,900 cases and 1,438 deaths. The party was concerned that a delay could hurt its chances amid the resulting economic crisis and mounting scrutiny over how the government has responded to the virus. But its coalition partners insisted on pushing the vote back.
As polls tightened before the vote Sunday, Duda fell back on anti-lgbt rhetoric, branding gay and transgender rights as an “ideology” akin to communism, in an apparent effort to galvanize his base. But his comments caused a backlash even in staunchly Catholic Poland.
Members of Law and Justice had said they hoped Duda’s visit to Washington last week would boost his chances of reelection. But the trip fell short of initial expectations on the Polish side, with no firm details announced on the movement of U.S. troops to Poland.
Warsaw has been lobbying for the United States to increase its security presence in Poland, which its officials say is even more important following President Trump’s order this month to withdraw 9,500 troops from Germany.
Trump said Wednesday that he would send “some” of the troops he planned to pull out of Germany to Poland, but he made no new commitment to increase the number permanently based in the country.
Speaking during Duda’s visit to Washington, Trump said he believed the incumbent would be “very successful.”
Duda has worked to strengthen relations with Washington to counter Poland’s growing isolation within Europe as his government has become increasingly autocratic.