The second round of the Polish Presidential Elections which occurred on the 12th of July will, without doubt, make it to history books in Poland. Record high turnout during the campaign rallies held by both candidates, filled with hundreds of people; queues to vote in which some had to wait for 2 hours to cast their vote, with a polling station remaining open until the late hours of the early morning in Croatia for Polish tourists long after the polls closed in Poland.
In addition, over 500,000 Poles living abroad registered to cast their vote in the second round. The 12th of July was a great day for Polish democracy, which is a fairly young democracy at that. The official results from the State Electoral Commission (PKW) now clearly show that the incumbent President Andrzej Duda will be re-elected for a second term which will last from 2020 until 2025. With 99.98% of votes counted, Duda is at 51.12% while his opponent Trzaskowski is at 48.88%.
Duda is unlike the conservatives we know in the West of Europe.
He is socially conservative but on economic issues he, one could say, is a left-winger, he supported and supports the social programs such as 500 zloty child benefit for all children or a 13th pension bonus all pensioners receive in Poland in May that were implemented by the current Law & Justice (PiS) government.
During the campaign, he promised to uphold these measures and introduce new ones such as a 14th pension bonus next year – a policy which will cost billions.
Trzaskowski, on the other hand, is a free marketeer. During the campaign he promised to veto any bills that would introduce new or raise the current taxes in Poland. He, like Duda, also promised to keep the already introduced social programs.
On social issues, the two differ not so much, Duda is staunchly against civil-partnerships for same-sex couples, allowing same-sex marriage or allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. While Trzaskowski only supports civil partnerships for same-sex couples, he doesn’t support the introduction of same-sex marriages and said that he agrees with Duda on not giving the right to adopt children to same-sex couples.
The two campaign HQ’s clashed when a PiS MP which was a member of Duda’s campaign staff Przemyslaw Czarnek said: ‘Let’s stop talking about idiocies like human rights. These people are not the equal of normal people’, and with that, LGBT rights became a heated topic in the campaign. Trzaskowski on the LGBT issue focused on respect, dignity and rights.
Abortion remained untouched before the campaign, however, during the discourse regarding social issues, Duda did say that he would like to see the Polish abortion law become more restrictive while Trzaskowski didn’t mention it at all.
The party that put Trazaskiwski forward, Civic Platform (PO), supports the current abortion compromise which allows abortions in cases of rape, when the woman’s life or any form of health is in jeopardy, or if the fetus is irreparably damaged.
One could describe Duda as a Socially Conservative Economic Statist and Trzaskowski as a Classical Liberal.
The main point of difference between the two was on issues such as the rule of law, the EU, media, and independent judiciary.
Duda promised to continue the judiciary reforms, reforms which at times were unconstitutional and which put Poland and the EU on a crash course.
During the campaign, Trzaskowski vowed to abolish the State TV while Duda promised to re-Polonise the media after a story about Duda pardoning a paedophile appeared in one of the daily newspapers Fakt.
Trzaskowski’s argument for the abolition of the state TV TVP was that since Duda and PiS came to power in 2015, TVP has become their propaganda mouthpiece.
Hours before the election silence came into effect, the headlines in the main 19:30 news in TVP stated that ‘Trzaskowski’s supporters destroy Poland’ followed by ‘Attack on Polishness and Polish symbols (by Trzaskowski)’. Some in TVP claimed that Trzaskowski, after all, is ‘Germany’s candidate’ for President of Poland.
While Duda had the entire state apparatus on his side: state media, government ministers, and the prime minister going around the country handing out checks to Mayors of local villages campaign for Duda.
The government’s involvement in Duda’s campaign was unprecedented and highly controversial, as many argue that the government should remain neutral during a presidential campaign, Trzaskowski could count on the private media, especially the US-owned TVN and a few newspapers.
While Duda’s rallies were aired in the three main Polish news stations TVP Info (state owed), TVN24 and PolsatNews, Trzaskowski’s rallies were only shown in TVN24 and PolsatNews while TVP Info did not air them. Trzaskowski during the campaign focused more on the future while Duda at his rallies was, for the most part, talking about what he and the government achieved in the last 5 years.
The most important thing right now for Duda to do would be to try to bring Poles together but after 5 years of his divisive Presidency that might be mission impossible.
We will without a doubt hear more about Poland clashing with the EU over the rule of law and minority rights. As of now the Polish government coalition United Right (PiS, Alliance, United Poland) controls the Presidency, Constitutional Tribunal, Supreme Court, State media and has a majority in the parliament. Next elections in Poland will take place in 2023 until then, I, and many others, fear that we might see Poland drift further towards authoritarianism.
Dominik Michalik is a Polish Citizen living in Ireland.