We’re now just three days away from the second round of voting in the Presidential election, which takes place this coming Sunday. The past week has been eventful on the campaign trail as both contenders pulled out all the stops in advance of polling day. Most opinion polls continue to give a very slight edge to the incumbent Andrzej Duda, but with small margins, pointing to the importance for each side of maximising the turnout of their own supporters and winning converts from supporters of now eliminated first round candidates.
The Duda campaign had doubled-down over the past few days on themes reflecting family values and social conservatism, pointing to a strategy aimed at maximising the turnout of the President’s core supporters and attempting to woo socially conservative first round Konfederacja voters.
President Duda said he was submitting to parliament a draft constitutional amendment on Monday to ban adoption by same-sex couples, describing such adoption as ‘experimentation’ on and ‘enslavement’ of children. Duda has emphasised his opposition to same-sex adoption throughout the campaign. He also repeated his opposition to what he’s termed LGBT ideology and said he’ll submit legislation to prevent what he termed ‘hostile ideologies’ from entering schools and ‘morally corrupting’ children.
Following a failure to agree on the format of a presidential debate between the two second round contenders, both candidates participated in separate events on Monday evening.
In the central town of Końskie, Duda attended a debate organised by public broadcaster TVP where he addressed a wide range of topics. In what could be regarded as an attempt to reach out to more libertarian right-wing voters, many of whom had supported Krzysztof Bosak in the first ballot, Duda said he was against making any future vaccine against coronavirus mandatory, commenting that he himself didn’t take the annual flu vaccine. Afterwards he tweeted to clarify that his remark only related to a coronavirus vaccine, and vaccination against other serious diseases was a separate matter.
Trzaskowski meanwhile told an assembled panel of inquisitors from several media organisations in the west-central town of Leszno, that he too is against adoption by same- sex couples but repeated his support for same-sex civil partnerships
Trzaskowksi pledged to be an independent head of state who would keep a close watch on the government. Referring to Prawo i Sprawiedliwość’s controversial judicial reforms which have strained Poland’s relations with the European Union institutions, he said he would ‘sit down with specialists’ in order to ‘unravel what has happened to Poland’s judiciary’.
No election campaign would be complete without some element of scandal or at least alleged scandal. In this campaign it’s being provided by press reports claiming President Duda in March pardoned a convicted paedophile who’d abused his daughter. The Duda campaign hit back hard at the presentation of the story, saying the pardon came after the man had already served a custodial sentence and on foot of repeated requests from the family involved, who are since reconciled, in order to have a restraining order lifted which was getting in the way of normal family life. On an examination of the details, and with even some strong critics of the president defending his handling of the case, it does appear the pardon was motivated by humanitarian reasons and the case has been sensationalised in the midst of an election campaign. However, some legal scholars have argued that there were other legal remedies available in this case to remove the restraining order and that more generally the current incumbent has used his pardon power too frequently.
Part of the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość defence of the president on the ‘paedophile pardon’ charge was to focus attention on the foreign ownership of the media outlets highlighting the story. Prawo i Sprawiedliwość spokespeople have alleged German interference in the election, and also once again criticised the coverage of the campaign by the U.S.-owned private broadcaster TVN.
President Duda himself accused the tabloid Fakt, which has German and Swiss owners, of seeking to unseat him as president by manipulating the pardon story, saying on Friday “The Germans want to choose the president in Poland. Today we have the latest instalment of the German attack in this election, a ruthless dirty campaign, this time directed against me.”
Criticism of TVN by the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość MEP, Beata Mazurek, led to a sharp response from the U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, who defended the impartiality of TVN. Opposition politicians in turn have routinely alleged pro-government bias on the part of public broadcaster TVP.
So, who will win? On the basis that no second placed challenger has to date overcome this size of first round gap with the top placed candidate – 13% was the difference between Andrzej Duda and Rafał Trzaskowski – and given his relative personal popularity whatever Poland’s divided political landscape, Duda must be favoured, albeit with the caveat that far greater political upsets that his defeat have happened before.
A good omen for Duda may well be a new CBOS poll which asked more generally about your trust in politicians – he once again topped the list with 56%, whereas 44% said they trusted Trzaskowski.
We’ll know on Sunday evening!
Should Duda be re-elected we can expect the next three years to be free of any major election; should Trzaskowski win all bets are off in terms of the relationship between the government and the president, and an early general election may well loom in the horizon.
In terms of the Polish electorate in Ireland, going on the results of the first ballot, they’re like to favour Rafał Trzaskowski over Andrzej Duda by a wide margin.
Turning to other news…
Authorities have said that voting in the first round of the Presidential election did not result in a spike in Covid-19 cases in Poland. The same as for this coming Sunday, electors had the option of voting in person or by postal ballot – the vast majority chose to vote the traditional way – in person. The latest Covid–19 figures for Poland showed the total number of cases at 36,689 as of Wednesday with the number of deaths attributed to the virus standing at 1,542.
The economic impact of coronavirus and the associated lockdown measures looks to be less severe in Poland and others states in east–central Europe than in the European Union as a whole, and certainly less severe than what’s being forecast in this country.
On Tuesday the European Commission said it expects the Polish economy to contract by 4.6% this year, which sounds dreadful but is actually the smallest contraction forecast in the EU. GDP of the eurozone block for example is anticipated to fall by 8.7%.
The Polish economy is expected to return to growth next year with a rise in GDP of 4.3% forecast – of course all economic forecasts are just that – forecasts – and can’t take account of unexpected economic shocks like the one we’ve experienced this year.
Meanwhile, the Polish unemployment rate continues to edge up slightly, albeit from a low base. On Monday, a Labour ministry estimate said it rose to 6.1% at the end of June, up 0.1% compared to May. Marlena Maląg, the Minister of Labour, Family and Social Policy commented that the labour market situation ‘is stabilising’; she’d claimed last month that 5 million jobs have been saved due to the so-called anti-crisis shield of measures designed to support the economy and mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19. Using a different methodology, the EU’s statistics agency said last week that unemployment in Poland was the second lowest in the 27 nation bloc at just 3%.
Poland’s Senate last Thursday approved a bill to remove the statute of limitations in respect of crimes committed by communist era officials – it’s due to lapse at the end of August. Last month President Duda said that ‘communist crimes should be prosecuted in the same way as crimes of genocide’; Prawo i Sprawiedliwość legislators submitted a bill to remove the sunset provision.
Last Friday Poland hosted a summit meeting in Warszawa of the prime ministers of the Visegrad group – the four nation regional cooperation bloc comprising the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia in addition to Poland. Poland had assumed the year- long presidency of the bloc on July 1st.
Discussions were focused on the EU budget and economic cooperation with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki saying the member countries were weathering the current crisis while maintaining stability. President Duda addressed the gathering saying that now is ‘the time to get back on track’ economically and resume interpersonal and business contacts.
The bloc’s foreign ministers met in Wadowice, southern Poland, on Tuesday with discussions focused on economic recovery post Covid-19, and energy cooperation.
Finally, it’s good sometimes to finish on an historical note – a roundabout in Kraków has been named after U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who was in office between 1929 and 1933 and whose administration was bedevilled by the economic impact of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. The move was at the instigation of the Jan Karski Society in recognition of his humanitarian work in Poland in the aftermath of the First World War. The society said that “He remains in Polish memory as a man who organised the largest humanitarian relief effort, thanks to which newly-independent Poland, returning to the map of Europe, was spared famine and epidemics.” Hoover was made an honorary citizen of Poland in 1922.