Poland Ahead of Presidential Election: New Frontrunner on Political Stage?

PO via flickr // CC

The presidential election in Poland, which was cancelled at short notice in May, will now take place on June 28. The new opposition candidate, Rafal Trzaskowski, is now positioning himself as the strongest challenger to incumbent Andrzej Duda.

On June 3, the Polish Marshal of the Sejm Ezbieta Witek announced that Poland’s President will be elected on June 28. The weeks of uncertainty about the new election date have thus come to an end. Should no candidate win more than 50% of the votes in the first round of voting, there will be a run-off vote on July 12.

The incumbent Andrzej Duda, who is close to the ruling national-conservative party, Law and Justice (PiS), leads the current opinion polls with about 41%. In recent weeks, however, his popularity has declined significantly.

On the other hand, the largest opposition alliance, Civic Coalition (KO), seems to be on the upswing with its new candidate, popular Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.

Elections That Did Not Happen

The presidential election was originally planned for 10 May. When the Corona crisis broke out the Polish opposition demanded a postponement of the election date and stressed several times that a fair election campaign would not be possible due to the pandemic.

However, PiS wanted to use its momentum at all costs, as the popularity of its candidate Andrzej Duda skyrocketed during the crisis. According to surveys at the time, he even had hopes of re-election in the first round.

PiS insisted on the date for a long time and wanted to organize the election as a pure postal vote. However, a change in the electoral law required for this failed due to internal disputes within the governing coalition, which has an absolute majority in the Polish lower house of parliament (Sejm).

Since the polling stations remained closed on May 10, and the election did not take place de facto, the State Electoral Commission (PKW) declared the elections invalid.

Last week, the Polish Parliament adopted the new draft law amending the Electoral Code, according to which the elections will be held in a mixed system. Voters can choose to vote traditionally in polling stations or by post.

However, the Sejm rejected the majority of the amendments to the Electoral Code adopted by the Senate. The opposition-controlled upper house of parliament wanted to introduce an amendment, among other things, to give the new candidates at least 10 days to collect signatures. This was rejected by the Sejm, leaving the only new candidate Rafal Trzaskowski with just 7 days to collect the 100,000 signatures needed for his candidacy.

The postponement of the election was a heavy blow for the PiS, which has since fallen by five percentage points in polls. President Duda’s popularity even slipped from over 60% at the beginning of May to around 41% – not least because of Trzaskowski’s announced candidacy.

New Candidate for the Civic Coalition

On the weekend, the Polish media reported that the new candidate of the pro-European liberal-conservative opposition alliance Civic Coalition Trzaskowski already received twice as many signatures as required for his candidacy.

However, Trzaskowski called on his supporters to continue to submit the signatures until the deadline expired.

In mid-May, the 48-year-old mayor of Warsaw, Trzaskowski, replaced the KO candidate Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, who withdrew her candidacy after the election was postponed. Before the pandemic, Kidawa-Blonska was considered the biggest challenger to Duda with 25% in opinion polls.

Nevertheless, the COVID-19 crisis made it impossible to continue the campaign under fair conditions and Kidawa-Blonska gradually lost support. She also confused many of her voters when she proposed to boycott the May elections without withdrawing from the race. As a result, her poll numbers dropped to single figures.

Trzaskowski started his campaign energetically and confidently. At one of the first press conferences after his nomination as a KO-candidate, he promised to significantly increase spending on the health care system if he was elected.

He also promised to establish a new public channel instead of TVP, following the example of the BBC. The manner in which PiS has used state media for “propaganda” is “poisoning our public life”, he explained.

According to his own words, he wants an active presidency and not a “silent participation” like Duda. His advertising slogan is: “Strong President, United Poland”.

In the last few weeks, his poll ratings have risen significantly. According to the latest polls, he is in the second place with about 27% behind the incumbent Andrzej Duda (about 41%), and far ahead of the third-placed Szymon Holownia (about 13%), an independent pro-European candidate from the centre.

In the second round, Duda would only win by a narrow margin of 1 or 2%. According to some opinion polls, both Trzaskowski and Holownia would win against Duda in the second round.

Trzaskowski is not a newcomer in politics. The 48-year-old Civic Platform (PO) mayor and politician is the former Polish Minister for European Affairs and an MEP. Within the liberal-conservative camp, he is considered a prominent social liberal who supports LGBT rights and a clear separation between state and church in the strictly Catholic country.

Last year, he took part in an LGBT parade in Warsaw, thereby protesting against the anti-LGBT course of the Polish government.

Trzaskowski is particularly popular with urban liberal voters, but this can also be seen as his weakness. The PiS will now mobilize its traditional electorate in smaller towns and rural areas. Some PiS top politicians have already tried to present the liberal views of the Warsaw mayor as a threat to Polish traditions.

“We will have a choice [in these elections] between the white-and-red Poland represented by the current president and a rainbow Poland [of Trzaskowski],” said Krzysztof Sobolewski, the chairman of the PiS executive committee, in an interview with Polskie Radio.

Trzaskowski has already assured that the election of an opposition president would not lead to a standstill. 

“I won’t be a president fighting the government, I won’t be a president of total opposition,” said Trzaskowski. “The president needs to cooperate.”

All Options on the Table

In recent weeks, Duda’s election campaign has been weakened by some affairs of some PiS politicians. The Minister of Health Lukasz Szumowski, who was highly praised for his response to the pandemic crisis in the previous weeks, is now accused of a conflict of interest. The affair surrounding the removal of the Kaczynski-critical song “Your pain is better than my pain” from the hit parade of the third Polish radio programme also caused a wave of indignation.

In addition, the Poles are increasingly noticing the deteriorating economic situation – one of the reasons why the PiS wanted to hold the presidential elections as soon as possible.

Should Trzaskowski win against Duda, the political power constellation in Poland will change significantly, as the PiS would lose another important position. Without a majority in the Senate and with a narrow majority in the Sejm, it would then be difficult for the PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to push through his controversial plans to restructure the judicial system and the state media.

However, the election polls show that nothing has been decided yet. The independent candidate Holownia, who has often been called a dark horse in the election due to his strong campaign in social networks during the COVID-19 crisis, also remains in the game.

In view of the strong polarization of Polish politics, it is expected that the run-off vote in the second round will be extremely close and unpredictable.

The article was originally published at: https://fnf-europe.org/2020/06/10/poland-ahead-of-the-presidential-election-new-frontrunner-on-the-political-stage/

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Natalie Marakova
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom