Poland presidential election a victory for conservative values

Polish President Andrzej Duda has won five more years in power, giving the government a new mandate to pursue reforms of the judiciary and media.

REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
Polish President Andrzej Duda, his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda and their daughter Kinga Duda shortly after the second round of the presidential election in Warsaw, Poland, July 12, 2020.

Polish President Andrzej Duda has won five more years in power on a deeply conservative platform after a closely fought election that is likely to deepen the country's isolation in the European Union.

Nearly final results from Sunday's presidential election put him on more than 51%, giving him an assailable lead over Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who won almost 49% of the votes, the National Election Commission said.

Mr. Duda is allied with the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, and his victory will give the government a new mandate to pursue reforms of the judiciary and media which the executive European Commission says subvert democratic standards.

"I don't want to speak on behalf of the campaign staff, but I think that this difference is large enough that we have to accept the result," Grzegorz Schetyna, the former head of the opposition Civic Platform grouping that fielded Trzaskowski.

Backed by PiS, Mr. Duda ran an acrimonious campaign, laced with homophobic language, attacks on private media, and accusations that Mr. Trzaskowski serve foreign interests instead of Poland's. Trzaskowski dismissed the accusations.

Mr. Duda's victory opens the way to new clashes between Poland and the European Commission as the EU tries to deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising nationalism across the 27-member bloc.

Before PiS and Mr. Duda came to power in 2015, Poland had one of the most pro-European administrations in the bloc's ex-communist east. But it has become increasingly combative, with divisions focusing on climate change and migration, in addition to democratic norms.

Enemies

Warsaw mayor since 2018, Mr. Trzaskowski had said he would seek a more tolerant Poland if elected. He has criticized PiS' rhetoric, vowing to abolish state news channel TVP Info, which critics say gave overt support to Mr. Duda in its programming.

But to many religious conservatives in Poland, a predominantly Catholic nation, he came to represent the threats facing traditional values when he pledged to introduce education about LGBT rights in the city's schools.

"It's what populists do very effectively. You name the enemy and you focus on combating him. This is what was used in this campaign, the fear of others," Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at the Warsaw University.

In the last week of campaigning, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski accused Mr. Trzaskowski of being at the center of attempts to allow minorities to "terrorize" the rest of society.

Economic policy was also at the heart of the election, with Mr. Duda painting himself as a guardian of generous PiS welfare programs that have transformed life for many poorer Poles since the party came to power in 2015.

PiS now faces the prospect of three years of uninterrupted rule with the next parliamentary election scheduled for 2023.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro suggested late on Sunday the party could push on quickly with its conservative agenda following the vote, and with its ambition to spur change in private media ownership towards outlets more favorable to its ambitions.

"We need to take care of the issue of values more than before," he told state broadcaster TVP. "There is also the matter of an imbalance among the media."

Some observers say Mr. Trzaskowski's strong showing could energize the opposition, which has struggled until now to formulate a cohesive narrative in the face of the PiS success in winning over many Poles with its economic and social agenda. 

This story was reported by Reuters. 

Editor’s note: As a public service, the Monitor has removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.