In Poland, a presidential election crucial for the populists in power

Voting day in Poland. Worried about the future of democracy and the economic crisis linked to the pandemic, the Poles began this Sunday, June 28, to go to the polling stations for the first round of a tight presidential race, crucial for the populists in the power. Outgoing President Andrzej Duda, 48, backed by the conservative nationalist government, which is running for his second term, faces ten other candidates, but according to polls, it is the liberal mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, of the main party opposition, Civic Platform (PO), which will be its rival in the second round, on July 12.

The campaign was dominated by concerns over the state of democracy and social issues, as Poland faces its first recession since the end of communism. Voters line up at polling stations across the country, wearing masks and respecting the rules of social distancing, according to journalists from Agence France-Presse and images posted on social networks. “I voted for Trzaskowski of course!” Why ? For democracy, the judiciary and respect for minorities, “said Joanna Ugniewska, 66, after voting at a polling station in a school in central Warsaw. Irena, a 63-year-old retiree from Minsk Mazowiecki, east of Warsaw, says she is satisfied with the status quo. “I would like this to continue,” she said.

A poll marked by the coronavirus crisis

According to the Constitution, the Polish President has limited powers, but has, among other things, the right of veto over proposed laws. The victory of Trzaskowski, 48, would thus be a serious blow to the government of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), at the origin of a series of controversial reforms, notably in the field of justice. According to the PiS, these changes were necessary to eliminate corruption among judges, but the opposition and European partners criticize these reforms, claiming that they are eroding democracy, barely three decades after the fall of communism.

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U.S. President Donald Trump, who views the PiS administration as a key European ally, gave his blessing to Andrzej Duda this week. The Polish head of state’s visit to the White House was the first for a foreign leader in the United States since the start of the pandemic, just four days before election day.

The ballot was strongly marked by the coronavirus crisis, which forced the authorities to postpone it from May to June. A new hybrid postal and conventional voting system has also been implemented to prevent new infections. Official data points to more than 33,000 cases of contamination and more than 1,400 deaths, but the Minister of Health admitted that there could be up to 1.6 million undetected cases in Poland, a country of 38 millions of inhabitants.

Fear of a recession

Andrzej Duda promised the Poles to defend a whole series of social benefits launched by the ruling party, including family allowances and upgraded pensions. The Poles also fear a first recession since the end of communism, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Duda used the anti-gay rhetoric to seduce far-right voters, analysts said.

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By campaigning under the slogan “We have had enough”, the main rival of the outgoing president, Rafal Trzaskowski, has promised to repair ties with Brussels. Since taking power in 2015, Duda and PiS have turned Polish politics upside down by stoking tensions with the EU. An exit poll is expected right after the polls close at 9 p.m. local time.

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