EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

The long-awaited results have come in, incumbent Andrzej Duda of the Law and Justice (PiS) party has won the Polish presidential election, barely getting by with 51.2% votes and only marginally winning against Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski of the center-right opposition Civic Platform party (PO) with 48.79%. A mere 500,000 difference in votes between the candidates.[1]

This means that President Duda, a social conservative allied with the government led by the nationalist PiS party, will continue for another 5-year term. A term that has been riddled with sweeping judicial reforms, restrictions towards independent media outlets and journalists, curtailing LGBT rights and hampering women’s rights – the list unfortunately goes on. These reforms have landed Poland’s ruling PiS party in hot water with the European Commission on numerous occasions. Moreover, now with another 5-year mandate, the current party has plans to “complete its overhaul of the judiciary”[2] with Duda at the helm, which will lead to further deterioration to the already fragile rule-of-law and further distance Poland from Brussels and neighboring countries.

Doomed from the start?

This Polish Presidential election has been cringeworthy from the very beginning. The original election was scheduled to take place back in May during the height of the pandemic and only postponed 4 days prior to the election was to take place, citing ‘logistical concerns’, among other reasons. However, many election watchers flagged concerns over the legality of holding the elections during the height of the pandemic, which clearly gave Duda an unfair political advantage. Instead of invoking a state of emergency, which would have called for a provisional date for an election in 6 to 12 months’ time[3], the vote was delayed to the first available timeframe – this July. A maneuver pushed through parliament by PiS to ensure that their nominee, who was polling ahead of his opponents, would get re-elected for another 5-year term.

What wasn’t foreseen, was the last-minute ‘Hail-Mary pass’ by the PO party when they replaced the presidential candidate ahead of new election date. Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, the previous nominee, was replaced by Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw[4] who sought to restore the balance of power, restore democracy, rule-of-law and relations with Brussels. Trzaskowski proved until the very end to be a clear challenger but unfortunately lost to Duda’s nationalistic, pro-religious platform and popular welfare schemes that has “helped raise many Polish families out of poverty.”[5]

However, the marginal win suggests that a large population of Poland, mainly from larger cities and western regions, sided with Trzaskowski. Whereas Duda’s support showed strong in rural areas and small towns in the east of the country. The nearness of the vote also suggests that “many in Poland are uneasy about the government’s attempts to introduce a more illiberal democracy.”[6] The electoral breakdown shown in Image 1 highlights the split that has encased Poland and shows the growing divide within the nation, a trend that unfortunately continues to spread.


Image 1. “Andrzej Duda wins re-election as Polish president”, Financial Times. July 13, 2020. [7]

Poland vs. the rest

The ramifications of this election will continue to impact Poland’s geopolitical role and relations with its Central and Eastern European (CEE) neighbors, the European Union, and even with the transatlantic partners such as the United States.

The CEE region, specifically the Visegrad 4 (V4), have often stood together on regional and global issues – but as Hungary and Poland continue down the path of democratic backsliding, the rest of the region have splintered on issues around migration, security and relations with neighboring Russia and the EU, among a myriad of other issues. A breakdown in joint policies may continue to diminish the V4’s collective role in Europe.

As the EU faces a mountain of challenges from climate change to the financial and economic implications of the pandemic, an unruly Poland has not helped. A Pew Research Center poll published last October found that “84% of those surveyed in Poland had a favorable opinion of the European Union.” Poland remains a major beneficiary of EU funding, but the EU has warned that if the Polish government moves further to weaken the rule of law, in the view of EU leaders, its position in the bloc could be damaged.[8] The worrisome trend that Poland’s 51.2% demonstrated that they want to benefit from EU funding but remain removed from the fundamental democratic standards that EU Member States adhere by. The long-term effect of a PiS powered 5-year term remains unclear but will certainly continue to ruffle feathers in Brussels.

On the other side of the Atlantic, United States’ President Trump is likely celebrating this victory for Poland’s PiS party especially as they align on many domestic platforms. After recently hosting Duda in the White House, the opportunity was used to showcase the strong partnership and also discuss American military presence in Poland. Trump stated last month that he planned to “withdraw 9,500 U.S. troops from Germany, capping America’s permanent presence there at 25,000 troops”[9] and could allocate numbers to Poland. This would be a huge win for Duda and Poland, which would further bolster its security umbrella but will cause ripples within the rest of Europe, who may view the US’s withdraw from Germany a larger threat to the future of Transatlantic relations. The relationship between the current administrations may also shift after the US elections in November and the next administration may not be so keen to establish such close ties with PiS.

What next?

As Poland further cements their socially conservative policies, they will have the next 3 years to reign until the next parliamentary elections take place in late 2023. Expert Dr. Angelos Chryssogelos summarized quite nicely that “The government is now free to pursue its agenda by controlling almost all levers of powers in the Polish political system, although Duda’s close margin of victory shows that its dominance should not be taken for granted for too long; an economic recession of infighting in the governing camp may undermine it in the coming years”.[10]

Whether they intended to or not, this election has placed Poland on the global stage. Duda’s next 5-year term will certainly be scrutinized both internally and externally, especially with a clearly divided and polarized nation.

Danielle Piatkiewicz












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