Presidential elections in Poland crucial for future ruling party

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Presidential elections are taking place in Poland on Sunday, postponed because of the corona pandemic. Initially, the ballot box should have taken place on May 10. The elections are crucial for the future of the conservative governing party PiS (Law and Justice). Current President Andrzej Duda is a favorite in the polls, with 40 to 41 percent of the voting intentions. It looks like he will face his most dangerous challenger Rafal Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw, in a second round in July. In the polls, this now receives 27 to 29 percent. Both are not expected to achieve an absolute majority.

Duda went to Washington this week. US President Donald Trump expressed his courage for the elections and congratulated him for his “formidable work”. Trump considers the Polish president to be an important European ally. The Polish president’s state visit to the White House was also the first of a foreign leader to the US since the pandemic began. However, the European partners have repeatedly denounced the reforms of the populist Polish government. The reforms in the judiciary in particular are detrimental to democracy.

The current president scores especially among Catholic voters in small towns and in the countryside. The 48-year-old used a rhetoric against LGBT people at an election meeting. “We are trying to make us believe that it is about people, but it is simply an ideology,” said Andrzej Duda at a meeting in Brzeg. Duda’s attacks sparked protest marches in Poland and abroad.

His opponent Trzaskowski of the Liberal Conservation Civic Coalition (KO) finds his supporters among the well-to-do, progressively oriented residents in the big cities. He is campaigning with the slogan “We have had enough” and wants to restore ties with Brussels.

A second five-year mandate for Duda and the PiS could lead to even more contentious changes. An electoral loss then threatens to compromise the influence of the party. Everyday problems weigh on the Poles as the economic impact of the health crisis would lead the country to a first recession since the end of communism.

For voters, the candidates’ personality and program are of secondary importance in the ballot. “These elections will be a referendum on whether to pursue PiS policy or not,” said political scientist Antoni Dudek. The party has had a power monopoly in the country since 2015. She has the absolute majority in parliament and can therefore do her thing without coalition partners. Even though the constitution does not allow the president to officially be a member of a party, Duda is keen to stress that he is on a par with the PiS government.

In Poland, the state leader has the right to veto virtually any initiative in parliament. To counter that veto, Parliament needs a three-fifths majority. Duda didn’t often use that veto. In July 2017, he stopped two laws of controversial judicial reform, following massive protests and the threat of European sanctions, but approved a third.

Duda did not notice an independent policy. He seems to be more of a straw man to the powerful 71-year-old president of Pis, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. If Trzaskowski were to succeed in defeating Duda, he could severely limit the power of PiS.

In the first round, Duda seems to be pulling the longest. After all, forty percent of the population lives in rural areas in Poland, and 30 percent in larger cities. A second round would take place on July 12, presumably against Trzaskowski. It will then depend on what recommendation the rest of the eleven presidential candidates in total will support.

The polling stations are open from 7 am to 9 pm. Exit polls should then be announced as soon as possible afterwards.

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