Polish President Wins 2nd Term 07/13 06:31
WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Polish President Andrzej Duda, a conservative who ran
a campaign with homophobic and anti-Semitic overtones, narrowly won a second
five-year term in a bitterly fought weekend election, defeating the liberal
Warsaw mayor, according to a near-complete count of votes.
Duda's supporters celebrated what they saw as a clear mandate from voters
for him and the right-wing ruling party that backs him, Law and Justice, to
continue on a path that has reduced poverty but raised concerns that democracy
is under threat.
Critics and human rights groups expressed concerns that Duda's victory would
boost illiberal tendencies not only at home but also within the EU, which has
struggled to halt an erosion of rule of law in Hungary under Prime Minister
Orban on Monday posted a picture of himself on Facebook shaking hands with
Duda in the Hungarian parliament with "Bravo!" and graphics of a hand showing a
"V" for victory and a Polish flag.
Zselyke Csaky, an expert on central Europe with the human rights group
Freedom House, said Duda's victory gives the party "essentially free rein"
until parliamentary elections in 2023 "to do away with limits on its power and
work towards destroying Poland's independent institutions, such as the
judiciary or the media."
The state electoral commission said Duda had 51.21% of the vote based on a
count of votes from 99.97% districts. His opponent, Rafal Trzaskowski, trailed
with 48.79% of the vote.
Final results, expected later Monday, could vary slightly, but Duda's lead
The very close race reflected the deep cultural divisions in this European
It followed a bitter campaign dominated by issues of culture in which the
government, state media and the influential Roman Catholic Church all mobilized
in support of Duda, a social conservative, and sought to stoke fears of Jews,
LGBT people and Germans.
Duda also got an apparent endorsement from U.S. President Donald Trump with
a last-minute White House invitation in late June. Trump praised Duda, saying:
"He's doing a terrific job. The people of Poland think the world of him."
Duda's campaign focused on defending traditional family values in the
predominantly Catholic nation of 38 million people, and on preserving social
The party's policies include hugely popular monthly cash bonuses of 500
zlotys ($125) per child to all families irrespective of income. They have
helped alleviate poverty in rural regions, and given all families more money to
Duda and the party, both in power since 2015, also solidified support among
older Poles by lowering the retirement age and introducing a yearly cash bonus
called a "13th pension."
Many credit Law and Justice for making good on promises to reduce the
economic inequality that came with the country's transition from communism to a
market economy three decades ago. There is a strong sense among them that the
economic help is restoring a sense of dignity to their lives after many decades
of hardship caused by war, communism and the economic dislocations of
The party has also stoked conflict with the EU with laws that have given it
vast new powers over the top courts and judicial bodies. Officials in Brussels
have repeatedly expressed concerns over the rule of law in both Poland and
Hungary, which were for many years hailed as the most successful new
democracies to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain.
Poland's populist politicians have in the past two years frequently used
rhetoric discriminating against LGBT people and other minorities, and the party
has turned public television into a propaganda tool used during the campaign to
praise Duda and cast Trzaskowski in a bad light.
Sunday's vote was originally planned for May but was delayed by the
coronavirus pandemic. Turnout was very high at 68.1%, close to a record set in
1995, in a sign of the huge stakes for Poles on both sides of the divide.
Trzaskowski, a former European Parliament lawmaker who jumped into the race
late, said he wanted to protect the country's democratic values and unite the
divided society, while preserving the popular welfare policies. He represented
the centrist opposition Civic Platform party, which was in power in from 2007
to 2015. It oversaw strong economic growth but is now blamed by many for
allowing the gap to grow between the rich and poor.
As the race became tighter in recent weeks, Duda turned further to the right
in search of votes. He seized on gay rights as a key theme, denouncing the LGBT
rights movement as an "ideology" worse than communism.
Trzaskowski, as mayor, had signed a tolerance declaration for LGBT people in
his city that triggered a nationwide backlash last year. The ruling party
leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, denounced LGBT rights as a foreign import that
threatens Polish identity.
The EU has denounced the anti-gay rhetoric and some EU officials have called
for funding to be denied to communities that declared themselves to be "LGBT
free" --- mostly a symbolic gesture with no legal meaning but which has
triggered fear among gays and lesbians.
Duda's campaign also cast Trzaskowski as someone who would sell out Polish
interests to Jewish interests, tapping into old anti-Semitic tropes in a
country that was home to Europe's largest Jewish community before it was
decimated by Germany in the Holocaust.
Kaczynski seized on Trzaskowski having said in the past that Poland should
still be open to Jewish demands to be compensated for pre-World War II property
that was seized from them by the Germans and later the communists.
He said last week it made one question if Trzaskowski really had a "Polish
soul" and a "Polish heart."
Duda also lashed out at a German correspondent and a partly German-owned
tabloid for their campaign coverage, alleging there had been "a German attack
in these elections."
The Foreign Ministry last week summoned Germany's top diplomat to complain
about the coverage, while Germany's government insisted that it wasn't seeking
to influence the elections or the work of a free media.