This week we’re taking an in-depth look at the forthcoming Polish presidential election following confirmation of the voting arrangements and polling dates.
The 2020 presidential election has, as readers will be aware, already had several twists and turns with the abortive bid to hold the first round of voting on May 10th, but we’re now entering the decisive phase of the campaign.
The presidential election is of major importance politically, as unlike the Irish President, the Polish head of state does play a significant role in politics and is especially active in the fields of foreign affairs and defence. A hostile president can represent a major obstacle to an elected government, especially one without a strong parliamentary mandate.
The election will be a major test for the governing Prawo i Sprawiedliwość party and their Zjednoczona Prawica or United Right alliance – though given the stance of Porozumienie over the arrangements for the holding of the election, one could say the disunited right – in power since Autumn 2015. Should the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – backed incumbent Andrzej Duda ultimately win re-election the governing bloc will have a full three years ahead of them unencumbered by major electoral tests, following the recent succession of local, European and national elections. With a friendly President coupled with their albeit narrow majority in the Sejm, and even with the opposition majority in the Senate, the Mateusz Morawiecki government should be able to get its policies through relatively unhindered assuming it maintains its own internal cohesion. Should Duda lose, while the government will remain in place, it doesn’t have the three-fifths parliamentary majority needed to over-ride a presidential veto and the opposition would undoubtedly be newly energised, with a focal point for getting their message across in the Presidential Palace. A fresh general election well before the end of the term of the present Sejm would be a distinct possibility. Indeed one of the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość arguments in favour of the re-election of Andrzej Duda will be that an opposition victory would encumber Poland with divided leadership at a time of multiple major challenges – including but not limited to the economic consequences of Covid-19 and the country’s strained relationship with it’s eastern neighbour – Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Speaking of disunity within the ruling block, last Thursday Prime Minister Morawiecki won a snap self-called vote of confidence in his government in the Sejm by 235 votes to 219 with two abstentions. The move was evidently designed to cast a line under what had been a difficult period for Prawo i Sprawiedliwość and give the impression of unity leading into the presidential election. President Duda said that he’s urged Morawiecki to hold the vote and it came on the back of the near split with Porozumienie as well as opposition calls for the dismissal of several senior ministers in controversies linked to the handling of Covid-19.
Also there does seem to be real enthusiasm, at least among his own dedicated support base, for the new Platforma Obywatelska candidate Rafał Trzaskowski. On Sunday it was reported he’d gathered more than double the required 100,000 signatures needed to get onto the ballot as a fresh candidate who hadn’t previously qualified for the May 10th vote. Platforma Obywatelska urged it’s supporters to continue gathering signatures so they would have way more than enough, they claimed to ward off any attempt to block his candidacy by disqualifying signatures. The chairman of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość’s executive committee, Krzysztof Sobolewski, commenting last month on media reports of Platforma Obywatelska collecting signatures for Trzaskowski in advance of the officially permitted timeframe for doing so, said that ‘If media reports that Trzaskowski has already collected 100,000 signatures are true, it would be breaking the law’, adding that this would show it’s leadership in a terrible light.
Averages of opinion polls show that Rafał Trzaskowski is now clearly in second place for the first ballot and has recovered the vote which Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska had lost during her ill-fated candidacy for Platforma Obywatelska. In a multi-candidate race polls put President Duda on around 40% of the vote or maybe a little above that figure, with Trzaskowski on around 27%, with the independent centrist and television personality Szymon Hołownia slipping back into third place with around 13% support. Had the delay in voting not occurred and Kidawa-Błońska remained Platforma Obywatelska’s candidate it’s entirely probable that Hołownia would have made it through to the second round to face Andrzej Duda. However, now that Trzaskowski has galvanised the liberal vote behind him, Hołownia’s best chance may have passed. Trzaskowski’s candidacy has also squeezed support for Lewica’s Robert Biedroń, who’s running on only around 3-4% in the polls.
So what does all this mean for Andrzej Duda’s re-election hopes? Probably, that his chances are back to being around the 50/50 or maybe slightly better mark they were at prior to Covid-19 disrupting the political landscape. Duda has been a personally popular President often topping surveys for being the most trusted politician in Poland and is a good campaigner. There’s little doubt but that he’ll easily sail through to the second round in first place. His challenge is that Poland is politically polarised now as much as ever between supporters and opponents of the nationalist-leaning somewhat right-of-centre Prawo i Sprawiedliwość party and its chairman, some would say Poland’s real ruler, Jarosław Kaczyński. While Prawo i Sprawiedliwość won last years’ national elections, the loss of their majority in the Senate, elected on a first-past-the-post system where many opposition parties combined against them, showed the narrowness of their lead and the small margin Andrzej Duda will have for error in the second ballot. That said the very secular liberal values, trademarked by his outspoken support of LGBT rights, that may help Trzaskowski into the second ballot, could well hinder him from taking over 50% of the vote in it needed to win the presidency. Opinion polls currently have a Duda – Trzaskowski second ballot within the margin of error albeit with most giving Duda a slight edge – and who knows what events may transpire between now and a likely second ballot on July 12th.
One of the major imponderables will be what impact the Coronavirus epidemic and it’s handling by the authorities will have on the outcome. Initially, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość put Andrzej Duda front and centre in the presentation of government initiatives, both in the health and economic spheres, to counter the virus and reassure the population. His poll ratings surged to the point where they signalled an outright victory on the first ballot. But of course that was prior to May 10th and that vote never happened. Since then in the face of mounting evidence of the economic consequences and various controversies over aspects of the handling of the situation, as well as the departure of Jarosław Gowin from the cabinet and the near split with Porozumienie, his support has fallen back roughly to where it started – in the low to mid 40s. For the second ballot the question may turn on who most voters trust to handle the economic and security challenges facing Poland as well as fundamentally what their vision is for the future of the country with the very different outlooks of the two major political blocs – the differences between whom are not as simple as just those between left and right – though we could short-hand it as a choice between a liberal, secular and European vision of Poland with Trzaskowski and a more conservative, nationalist and independent vision with Duda.
We look forward to bringing you all the developments in what’s already proved to be an intriguing campaign and the plot may very well have further twists yet to come.
Meanwhile, most importantly arrangements have also been announced for voting by eligible Polish nationals resident in Ireland. Voting in Ireland will be by correspondence only with no opportunity for in-person voting. To participate you need to register on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website and registration is open until June 15th – so do get registered! If you registered prior to May 10th you just need to change your form of voting to correspondence rather than registering again. The hope is that voting papers for the first ballot will arrive by June 19th and should be returned as soon as possible as they need to reach the embassy by end of day Friday, June 26th.
As always full details are available on the Polish embassy Facebook page which we’d encourage you to visit for regular updates.