Duda's knife-edge election win puts Poland on collision course with EU

Divisive Polish president wins 51 per cent of vote on back of populist Law and Justice party's right-wing platform

The populist right wing in Poland is celebrating today after their candidate narrowly won the country’s presidential election.

Andrzej Duda edged to victory by winning just over 51 per cent of votes in a second-round poll and may put Poland on a collision course with the European Union.

The victory meant that Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) will be able to continue policies that have led to the erosion of liberal rights, the rule of law, and attacks on the judiciary. PiS claimed its reforms were required to stamp out judicial corruption.

Mr Duda is an ally of US President Donald Trump, and last month he was the first foreign leader to visit the White House since February and the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Mr Trump, who has an election of his own to contend with, endorsed the Polish leader.

The 48-year-old Mr Duda now enters a second term after defeating the liberal candidate and former Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, who won almost 49 per cent of the vote.

The tight result played out as a battle for the heart of Poland, with younger voters in the west of the country and in big cities choosing Mr Trzaskowski, while the older, more conservative generation from smaller towns voted for the incumbent.

Mr Duda is also close ally of US President Donald Trump and became the first foreign leader to visit the White House since February last month. AP
Mr Duda is also close ally of US President Donald Trump and became the first foreign leader to visit the White House since February last month. AP

Mr Duda used a divisive strategy in which he promoted Poland’s religious-based family values against the growing liberal views of the younger generation. He has been criticised for using anti-liberal rhetoric against minority groups.

Public television, which is controlled by PiS supporters, also attacked Mr Duda’s opponent as a liberal “extremist” who was allegedly backed by foreign supporters.

The EU has threatened to sanction Poland for its restrictions on the judiciary, media and civil society.

The European Commission accused PiS of violating Poland’s commitments to the EU’s rule of law and has taken Poland to the European Court of Justice after it introduced laws that allowed politicians to appoint judges.

Mr Duda attracted controversy when he awarded the Grand Cross Of Poland to the philosopher Roger Scruton last year shortly after he had been fired as a British government adviser for causing controversy over comments about Islam.

Scruton, who died in January, suggested that “Islamophobia” was a propaganda word “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue”.

PiS has gained significant popular support for giving families with children income support of 500 zloty (Dh462) per child per month and for its conservative values in the traditionally Roman Catholic country.

Poland's president has few real powers but he can veto any law passed by parliament. The ruling coalition, United Right, holds a majority of five seats, which makes the president's veto important.

Mr Duda had originally been far ahead in the poll that was meant to go ahead on May 10 but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Civic Platform, the opposition grouping and Mr Trzaskowski’s backer, told Reuters it was collecting information on voting “irregularities”, including reports that Poles living abroad had not received their voting packages in time to use them.

The official results were expected on Wednesday evening after votes sent from abroad were counted.

Updated: July 13, 2020 09:12 PM

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