written by Karolina Stankiewicz
The first round of Polish presidential elections took place this Sunday, June 28th, pitting the incumbent Andrzej Duda supported by the populist right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) against a string of opposition candidates, including centrist Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski backed by Civic Platform (PO — the party previously led by former European Council President, Donald Tusk), journalist Szymon Hołownia running on a non-partisan platform, and far-right candidate Krzysztof Bosak.
The vote, which was initially planned for May 10th, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While PiS wanted to push ahead with a postal vote to maintain Duda’s high support before the economic crisis brought about by the pandemic hit, the election was eventually rescheduled due to the infeasibility of a postal vote and strong opposition from other candidates. PO, the main opposition party, used this opportunity to switch its previous candidate, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, who was polling extremely low, to the charismatic and young Trzaskowski.
While the office of the President is largely ceremonial in Poland, he or she does have veto power over new legislation, which can only be overruled by three-fifths of the parliament, a majority that PiS and its coalition do not have. This means that, if elected, Trzaskowski could act as a check on the government’s attempts to control the judiciary or to restrict the already very limited right to abortion.
The high stakes associated with the election mobilised voters on both sides, leading to a record turnout of 64.51% compared to 48.96% in the previous presidential elections in 2015. Duda came first with 43.5% of the votes, followed by Trzaskowski who obtained 30.46%, qualifying both of them for the second round which is due to take place in two weeks. Their results clearly illustrate the split between rural and eastern Poland on the one hand where Duda dominates, and urban and western Poland where Trzaskowski leads.
The second round fight will largely depend on those who voted for Hołownia (13.87%) and Bosak (6.78%). Hołownia has been popular mostly with younger voters. His campaign, which revolved around ending the PO-PiS duopoly which has controlled Polish politics in the last 15 years, has also succeeded in activating many new voters who had not cast a ballot before. They are more likely to vote for Trzaskowski in the second round. Bosak’s voters are less predictable. Both candidates will try to court them — Duda by appealing to nationalist and traditional values, Trzaskowski by trying to portray his economic platform as more libertarian than Duda’s — but it remains to be seen who will be more successful. The second round is going to be very tight…
Karolina Stankiewicz is a final year student of the European Social and Political Studies dual BA degree between Sciences Po Paris and University College London. She is the Director of EU Conferences at European Horizons and Vice-President of the UCL chapter.
Originally published at https://www.europeanhorizons.org on June 30, 2020.