Monday

28th Sep 2020

EU facing three more years of Kaczyński-ism

  • Polish president Andrzej Duda (l) was backed by PiS-controlled state TV (Photo: Kancelaria Premiera)

Poland is heading for at least three more years of full control by the increasingly un-European Law and Justice (PiS) party after presidential elections on Sunday (28 June).

That is the most likely outcome after the nationalist-populist incumbent, PiS-loyalist Andrzej Duda, won 43 percent of the vote, compared to his closest rival, centre-right candidate Rafał Trzaskowski, who got 30 percent.

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  • Rafał Trzaskowski (r), Sunday's runner-up, unlikely to win second round (Photo: epp.eu)

Both appealed to the nine other candidates, who also ran, to back them instead in a run-off on 12 July.

And with turnout at a sky-high 64 percent, Polish society was seized by the political battle.

But with Duda commanding a more than 10-point lead, as well as ongoing support by state media, few think Trzaskowski can catch him in just two weeks.

That would mean five more years of a PiS presidency and, at least, three more years of PiS government, until the next parliamentary election in 2023.

It would mean "a strong, safe Poland, a dignified Poland, whose interests are represented", on the world stage, Duda said on Sunday.

It would signify "respect for the Polish family" which "should take first place in politics", he added.

And it would be good news for Polish farmers, Duda said, whom he praised for their "attachment to traditional values and to the fatherland in the truest sense of the word".

His reference to a "strong Poland" came after he got a bump from the populist US president, Donald Trump, who invited Duda to the White House last week.

And his talk of "traditional values" came after a strikingly homophobic campaign, in which Duda compared LGBTI "ideology" to "communism", among other slurs.

The crowd at his victory rally also chanted the nationalist slogan "This is Poland!" when he mentioned Trzaskowski.

But for his part, the runner-up, from the opposition Civic Platform party, said Sunday's result showed that 57 percent of the country "wants change".

Trzaskowski appealed to Polish women, especially, to back him in the run-off.

He said Poland needed an opposition president "who kept a close watch on the hands of power [government]".

"This campaign is not about left and right, conservatism or liberalism, it's about democracy and the democratic respect for the rights of minorities," Trzaskowski said.

Duda was no more than "Kaczyński's notary, his pen [for signing laws]", a Trzaskowski aide added, referring to the powerful PiS party chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński.

"We've had enough!", people chanted at the opposition rally.

Poland has, over the past few years, already triggered four lawsuits and an unprecedented sanctions procedure by the European Commission.

It is likely to see its future EU funds cut in punishment for PiS abuses of European norms.

And Kaczyński's reign has even prompted talk that Poland might, one day, crash out of the EU due to his dismantling of independent courts and disregard for EU law.

It was "really sad" when politicians "target minorities for potential political gains", EU values commissioner Věra Jourová also said ahead of Sunday.

Corona vote

Meanwhile, Kaczyński's man might already have won if the election had been held, as PiS had planned, in early May, in the middle of the coronavirus lockdown.

Duda was riding high because he was on TV all the time talking about the crisis, while his opponents could not campaign.

But the PiS stunt failed when a minor coalition partner rebelled on public health grounds.

Sunday's election was the EU's first since the pandemic and Poland's first "hybrid" vote, with a mix of physical and postal ballots.

People had to keep two metres apart at polling stations.

They were asked to wear masks, but to lower them on arrival for ID purposes, to disinfect their hands, and to bring their own pens.

In one polling station, in the town of Kalisz, an official began spraying people's whole bodies with disinfectant before her superiors stopped her, in a sign of the times.

But crowds mingled freely at Duda and Trzaskowski's post-election parties on Sunday evening.

There were also scattered incidents of people ripping down opponents' posters on the day in some small towns, but no other trouble.

The third runner-up, with 14 percent of the vote, was Szymon Hołownia, a self-styled "progressive [Roman] Catholic", who made his name on a reality TV show.

Robert Biedroń, a gay candidate, came sixth, with just 2 percent, doing less well than expected.

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