The Polish city square in Lublin is still almost empty, but Ewa is ready. A slender woman with a black mask and a large ‘Rafal’ sign in her hand. Sunday is finally the first round of presidential elections. “The most important election since the victory over communism,” says Ewa excitedly. “So we fought against democracy and that democracy is now under threat.”
We hear the same urgency among more people. A young student proudly holds a photo of the new presidential candidate Rafal Trzaskowski. “I want to grow up in a tolerant country without homophobia. Where everyone is the same and it doesn’t matter what you look like.”
Polish presidential elections are suddenly so exciting that no one dares to make a prediction. The race appeared to be taking place in April, but the crown postponed the May 10 elections. The opposition party, the center-right Civic Platform, seized the opportunity and presented a new candidate. Charismatic, pro-European Rafal Trzaskowski is 48 years old and mayor of Warsaw. It can change the Polish and European political landscape.
In the midst of the crisis of the crown, the elections in Poland already seemed decided. A second round would not be necessary. Acting President Andrezj Duda would win by an absolute majority. The first round already: his government had protected the country well during the pandemic. The death toll in Poland was relatively low compared to Western European countries. But in the meantime, the fear of the coronavirus has disappeared in the background. The virus, therefore, no longer plays a role in the election of a new president.
President Duda’s harsh and hostile anti-gay campaign was also misrepresented. The president stated that “LGBTI ideology is more dangerous than communism”. That would probably appeal to ultra-conservative voters, he thought. However, his statement was severely criticized at home and abroad.
Driving through Polish villages and towns in the province, it stands out: not only the campaign posters of President Duda, the winner painted dead, hang on the gates. Everywhere, great signs of the opposition candidate Trzaskowski are emerging. He is the man who is shaking for PiS’s ultra-conservative government.
Half an hour later, about a thousand enthusiastic people gathered in the square in Lublin. Waving Polish and European flags. “We are fed up,” they sing, referring to the right-wing populist policies of the PiS government.
“This campaign is more about emotion than content,” said Marcin Duma, director of the IBRiS research agency. “Trzaskowski gives hope. Opposition voters hope that the PiS party’s victory will end. They see him as a messiah.”
President Duda thought he had the elections in his pocket, but according to the research director, something is changing. “During this campaign, PiS voters in rural areas also identify Duda’s disadvantages for the first time. They consider him ‘not independent’. He would be under the influence of the leader of the ultra-conservative party Jaroslaw Kaczynski.”
But the Duda camp retaliates. The President of the United States was enlisted for help this week. Just before the elections, Trump welcomes his Polish colleague as a great statesman. Although there are no future promises, Duda is praised on camera: “He did a fantastic job and will be successful in these elections”. The American president is desperately needed by the Polish president.
Meanwhile, party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski raises hundreds of young people. “Vote Andrezj Duda” echoes in an event hall in Lublin. Duda fans hope to preserve the presidential seat. And gentle girl wants to explain why. “We are fighting for important values in Poland. Christianity, family values and freedom.”
Young people here understand what is at stake: “If our candidate wins, the government will be able to further reform and restore the country. The opposition candidate will block further changes. This means the end of Poland and it is destroying everything, “describes a girl from DUDA in her red T-shirt.
If President Duda loses, the PiS government has a problem. If Trzaskowski becomes president, he can veto and block accounts. Also legal reforms that put Poland in conflict with the European Union.
At his press conference, Trzaskowski advances in fluent English News hour. “European priorities must be priorities for all of us. I am concerned about the current government that does not regard the fight against climate change as one of the main priorities.” The candidate also promises: “I will veto legislation that threatens the independence of the judiciary”.
Who will be Poland’s new president will not be decided until July 12, during the second round. Marcin Duma shows us the most recent survey of this decisive election: 46% for Trzaskowski and 45% for Duda. “There is no significant difference. The rest of the voters still don’t know. It will be a neck and neck race.”