Populist Duda edges past Poland’s progressive candidate in the nation’s narrowest Presidential election race

Yesterday, the people of Poland went to the polls to decide whether the incumbent, Andrzej Duda, would be returned to Warsaw’s Presidential Palace for another five years.

Duda fought off Rafal Trzaskowksi in what was one of the most tightly contested electoral races since the fall of communism in 1989. He is just the second President to be successfully re-elected by the Polish electorate.

The pair contested the first round, in which the President obtained the support of 43.5 percent of his compatriots. Trzaskowski trailed in second with the support of 30.5 percent of voters.

In 2015, Duda won 51.5 percent of the vote, compared to Bronislaw Komorowksi’s 48.5 percent vote share. This was the first victory for the populist party since Kaczynski defeated the former President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in 2005.

However, in the days preceding the second ballot, it was unclear whether Duda, supported by the Law and Justice Party, would have enough support to fend off Trzaskowski, who is backed by the Civic Platform.

The dozen opinion polls conducted in the week before the second ballot emphasised the division in Poland. Half of the polls predicted Duda’s re-election, while the other half foresaw a change in direction for the nation. 

Last night’s exit poll was equally tight. It projected that Duda would win the backing of 50.4 percent of the electorate, whereas the current Mayor of Warsaw would win 49.6 percent.

However, with almost all of the votes counted, Duda has won re-election with the support of 500,000 more Poles than the Civic Platform’s candidate. Subsequently, Duda finished the election with the backing of 51.2 percent of the electorate. 

The exit poll may have underestimated Duda’s lead because of a perceived embarrassment among Poles to reveal whom they supported. The deputy Prime Minister, Jadwiga Emilewicz, claimed that: “People are ashamed of voting for the right, which means the exit polls underestimate support”.

The election also witnessed a massive increase in voter turnout. In both the first and second round, roughly two-thirds of Poles cast their votes. This is markedly higher than the election in 2015, in which approximately half of the nation’s eligible voters exercised their democratic right.

The mobilisation of the Polish voter may come from the divisiveness of this year’s election. Not only has Duda pursued a crash course with the Brussels-based bureaucrats, but the returning President has been criticised for his illiberal stance towards his nation’s LGBT+ population. 

In fact, Duda described the LGBT+ community as being a part of an ideology “more destructive than communist indoctrination”. Consequently, Poland has been dubbed ‘the worst country in the EU for LGBT rights’ by the BBC. 

The results and visions for Poland also symbolised a geographic and age divide between different groups within Poland. According to The Financial Times, Duda and the populist right tend to get the support of rural and older Poles. These voters predominantly support the Law and Justice Party’s mix of populist pledges, including state aid and social conservatism. 

Aleks Szczerbiak, of the University of Sussex, told The Independent that Duda won because “he was able to get his voters out. His campaign was primarily about mobilising voters in small-town provincial areas of Poland”. 

Despite concerns over the Polish President’s position towards his LGBT+ compatriots and the controversies regarding Poland’s judiciary, the architect of the UK’s departure from the EU and leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, celebrated the result because it was “good to see a eurosceptic win in Poland.”

However, Poland’s President and his constituents have not made it clear that they would be in favour of a Polish departure from the EU. Therefore, while Duda does pose a threat as a belligerent participant within the EU, the likelihood of ‘Withdrarsaw’ remains slim.

By J Walters

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