Poles voted on Sunday in a knife-edge presidential election between a populist incumbent closely allied with US President Donald Trump and a europhile liberal keen to mend fences with Brussels.
The result will be decisive for the future of Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party government, which has relied on its ally, the incumbent Andrzej Duda, to push through judicial reforms that have set Poland on a collision course with the European Union over the rule of law three decades after the fall of communism.
Duda is facing a challenge from Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski of the opposition Civic Platform (PO) party and the latest polls show an almost even split between the two.
Wojciech, a 59-year-old builder, said he chose Duda for his close ties to Trump and because he “agreed completely” with the incumbent’s vow to ban adoption for same-sex couples.
“Duda’s cooperation with Trump means we can count on the US for defence,” he told AFP after voting in Warsaw, but declined to provide his surname.
Other voters said they chose the pro-European Trzaskowski in the hope he would mend ties with Brussels strained by controversial PiS judicial reforms.
“It’s important for there to be calm and good cooperation with our European partners,” Warsaw pensioner Danuta Lutecka told AFP, adding she chose Trzaskowski hoping for “less hate, less division” among Poles.
Voters at a polling station in Warsaw’s leafy Mokotow district wore masks, used hand sanitiser and their own pens in a bid to stem coronavirus infections at the ballot box.
The vote had been due in May — at a time when Duda was riding high in the polls — but was delayed because of the pandemic.
Duda’s support has slipped considerably since then, partly because of the virus fallout, which is pushing Poland into its first recession since communist rule.
Polls opened at 0500 GMT and will close at 1900 GMT, with an exit poll scheduled shortly after that and the first official results only expected Monday morning.
Experts are warning that Sunday’s result could be so close that legal challenges and protests may ensue.
In the first round on June 28, Duda came first with 43.5 percent and Trzaskowski second with 30.4 percent.
But Trzaskowski will be hoping to sweep up votes from Poles who supported other opposition candidates.
Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said he has had to mobilise very disparate parts of the electorate against Duda and the incumbent would therefore likely win, though by a narrow margin.
Duda has promised to defend popular social welfare payments pushed through by the PiS government and has campaigned on divisive issues, criticising LGBT rights and Jewish wartime compensation claims.
“The upcoming elections are a clash of two visions of Poland, the white-red and rainbow-coloured,” Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told the Polish news agency PAP on the last day of the campaign — a reference to the colours of Poland’s national flag and the symbol most widely used by the LGBT community.
The government has also lashed out at German-owned media, accusing them of “bias” in the election after a tabloid owned by the Ringier Axel Springer Group published a story about Duda pardoning a paedophile.
Trzaskowski promises a very different Poland.
He has said he will roll back controversial reforms of the judiciary that have put the country on a collision course with the rest of the European Union.
Trzaskowski has also expressed support for allowing same-sex civil partnerships in Poland, although like Duda he opposes adoption by same-sex couples.
A Trzaskowski victory could begin to unravel the influence of PiS in Polish politics.
A Duda win on the other hand would cement the party’s power.
“This election will determine Poland’s fate for the foreseeable future,” said Adam Strzembosz, a former Supreme Court chief justice and highly respected professor of law.
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