Duda narrowly re-elected in Poland in boost for ruling nationalists

Shaun Walker Central and eastern Europe correspondent

Andrzej Duda has won Poland’s presidential election, after results released on Monday morning gave the incumbent 51.2% of votes with almost all the ballots counted.

His Liberal challenger, Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw, trailed with 48.8%.

The head of the national electoral commissions said final official results would be announced later, but with Duda leading by nearly half a million votes his lead was unassailable. However, the close margins may prompt complaints from the opposition over voting irregularities and a skewed playing field.

Trzaskowski conceded defeat on Monday afternoon, thanking his supporters for their dedication and congratulating Duda on victory. “May this term really be different,” he wrote on Twitter.

The knife-edge second-round runoff was pitched by both sides as a battle for the future of the country, with Duda promising another term backing the legislative agenda of Poland’s ruling populist party and Trzaskowski offering to be the face of a different Poland.

Duda fought a divisive campaign in which he promised to back “family values” at the expense of LGBT rights and frequently used homophobic rhetoric.

His win will give the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) control of most of the levers of power for several more years, allowing it to continue an agenda that has eroded the rule of law and judicial independence, putting Poland on a collision course with the EU.

An exit poll released as the polls closed at 9pm on Sunday gave Duda 50.4% of votes, which was well within the poll’s margin of error of two percentage points, and gave Trzaskowski supporters hope they might turn around the deficit as the votes were counted, especially given the likelihood of a strong pro-Trzaskowski vote from the more than half-a-million Poles voting abroad.

“I am absolutely convinced that when we count each vote, we will be victorious and we will definitely win,” had Trzaskowski told his supporters on Sunday evening.

In the end, however, Duda has cemented his advantage, edging up in a “late poll” around midnight and then posting what looked like an unassailable lead in results released at about 8am Warsaw time on Monday morning, with more than 99% of precincts reporting their counts. Turnout was high, at 68%.

“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 Poland’s opposition Civic Platform group, told a Polish television station on Monday.

Data from the exit poll showed the country split along many different lines: Trzaskowski won more votes among younger voters, in big cities and in the west of the country, while Duda’s base was older voters and small towns and the countryside, where PiS’s combination of state financial support and conservative social policies has traditionally been popular.

“People are ashamed of voting for the right, which means that exit polls underestimate support, because people are afraid of being excluded from their social circles by admitting their vote,” said the PiS deputy prime minister, Jadwiga Emilewicz, at a post-election event in Warsaw on Sunday night, predicting Duda’s advantage would grow unassailable.

The liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza said overnight it would compile a list of violations in the electoral campaign to chronicle the “lies, hatred and abuse of power” in the run-up to the vote.

During the campaign public television, which is controlled by PiS loyalists, boosted Duda’s campaign. The stable of media loyal to the government attacked Trzaskowski as an “extremist” and alleged he was backed by shadowy foreign interests. It also criticised him for his support of LGBT rights during his time as mayor of Warsaw.

Duda and Trzaskowski emerged from a first-round field of 11 candidates held two weeks ago. The election was originally due to take place in May, when Duda was riding high in the polls and was expected to win easily. However, with coronavirus restrictions in place, plans for a full postal vote were abandoned a few days before the election as impossible to implement.

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