President Andrzej Duda and his opposition challenger both declared victory in Poland’s presidential election runoff after an exit poll showed the incumbent winning by a razor-thin margin.
Duda’s lead — 50.4% over 49.6% for Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski — was still within the margin of error of the exit poll. The survey by the IPSOS pollster also didn’t take into account nearly half a million votes by Poles living abroad that may favor the Warsaw mayor. Partial results are expected overnight and final figures are likely due by Tuesday.
If confirmed, Sunday’s ballot will give Duda and his nationalist governing allies in the Law & Justice Party more time to transform Poland from a nation hailed as a model of post-communist change to one battling against European Union values.
“I’m happy with my exit poll win,” Duda, 48, told a rally. “Judging from past elections, my result should be even better.”
Trzaskowski said that after the votes are counted, he will emerge victorious. His campaign chief Cezary Tomczyk said Sunday’s ballot was plagued by “scandalous irregularities” and that the opposition planned to file protests. Turnout was a record 68.9%, according to IPSOS.
Five more years under Duda would allow the government to continue its path away from the European mainstream and toward its centralization of power.
Unable to run again, Duda would have little motivation to seek to compromise despite winning by such a tiny margin. After it lost control over parliament’s upper house in last October’s general election, Law & Justice didn’t swerve from its path, so the close presidential ballot isn’t expected to dent its appetite to complete the makeover.
If Trzaskowski emerges the victor, it would send a message to Brussels and Berlin that Poland still has one foot in the European mainstream. That would be a welcome development for EU leaders who — while occupied by the coronavirus crisis and Brexit — have struggled with nationalist governments rejecting its liberal and multicultural agenda.
If it stands, “this result would mean that Poland will remain a warrior against EU values,” said Andrzej Rychard, a sociology professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences. “This means a continuation of institutional changes, even though the civic-society opposition has also strengthened.”
Just days before the runoff Poland’s de-facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who heads Law & Justice, returned to plans to revamp the media. He supports more government control over the sector, which his party has criticized as some broadcasters have German and U.S. owners.
Poland can’t allow this “part of our national nervous system to remain in foreign hands,” he said.
Duda was cruising for re-election as recently as in early May, but his campaign took a hit as measures to tackle the pandemic put Poland on the path toward its first economic recession in three decades.
The president responded with familiar Law & Justice tactics. He demonized gay people, vowed to defend traditional family values, attacked private media and accused Germany of meddling. He received a big boost from public television, which according to international election monitors at the OECD “failed in its legal duty to provide balanced and impartial coverage,” while playing on xenophobic and anti-Semitic themes.
— With assistance by Piotr Bujnicki, Dorota Bartyzel, and Maciej Onoszko
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