Polish President Andrzej Duda, a social conservative aligned with the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, appears to have narrowly beat center-left Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski in Sunday's election, Poland's National Electoral Commission said Monday. The head of the commission said the final results won't be announced until later, but that with more than 99 percent of votes tallied, Duda had a likely insurmountable 500,000-vote lead. The near-complete results, showing Duda beating Trzaskowski 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent, makes it the closest election in Poland since it shed communism in 1989.
The election was originally scheduled to take place in May, when Duda and the PiS were more popular. But despite Duda pushing to hold the vote on schedule, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to back down when a junior coalition partner sided with the opposition. Turnout was a near-record 68.12 percent, the electoral commission said.
The government, state media, and Poland's powerful Catholic Church backed Duda, a social conservative, in a divisive election where the incumbent called LGBT rights an "ideology" worse than communism and tapped anti-Semitic slurs to suggest Trzaskowski would sell Poland out to Jewish interests. The PiS is expected to continue its takeover of the judicial system, putting it in increasing conflict with the European Union.
But Duda also won domestic support for generous social welfare payments, including monthly cash bonuses of $125 per child to all families and more general retirement benefits. Trzaskowski had pledged to keep the popular welfare programs while restoring Poland's democratic values. "Duda's victory shows there is a strong electorate for social conservatism and generous state handouts," writes BBC Warsaw correspondent Adam Easton. "But the closeness of the vote also suggests that many in Poland are uneasy about the government's attempts to introduce a more illiberal democracy." Peter Weber