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June 17, 2020

POLAND: Duda remains favorite but Trzaskowski has momentum in presidential race

BY Andrius Tursa

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President Andrzej Duda will win the first round of the presidential election scheduled for 28 June. The incumbent, however, is unlikely to win an absolute majority of votes to a secure a first-round victory, which points to a highly competitive runoff on 12 July. Duda remains a favorite, but the opposition Civic Platform’s (PO) candidate Rafal Trzaskowski has momentum and various developments in the coming weeks could tilt the outlook to either side.

Eleven candidates are running in the postponed presidential poll. The vote will be conducted in-person at regular polling stations in most constituencies, but the electoral authorities may order a postal only ballot in municipalities where the epidemiological situation is challenging. This is likely to be the case in the southern region of Silesia, which is coping with a Covid-19 outbreak in its coal mines. Moreover, the Covid-19-related restrictions may limit the ability to vote for some Polish citizens abroad.

The presidential powers in Poland are not extensive, but the head of state holds a right to veto any legislation adopted by parliament. While the president’s veto can be overturned by a three-fifths majority in the lower house of parliament (Sejm), the ruling United Right coalition government holds only a five-seat majority in the 460-seat Sejm. As a result, the opposition’s victory would significantly weaken the government’s ability to pass legislation and could heighten the risk of political instability.

Opinion surveys show that Duda (supported by the ruling Law and Justice party, PiS) remains in front, polling at around 41-43%, followed by Trzaskowski with 26-29% and independent Szymon Holownia with 8-14%. Other key candidates – including Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz (Polish People’s Party), Krzysztof Bosak (National Movement) and Robert Biedron (The Left) – attract below 10% of votes. Momentum, however, is with Trzaskowski, who has re-energized the PO’s campaign and has seen his ratings doubling since his nomination around a month ago. Conversely, after the Covid-19-related boost in March and April, Duda’s ratings have been on the decline. This makes Duda’s first-round victory increasingly unlikely, leading to a highly competitive runoff on 12 July. Most polls show that the incumbent’s edge over his key opponents – regardless of whether it is Trzaskowski or Holownia – would disappear in the second round.

To regain momentum, Duda is relying on the proven PiS campaign tactics, which emphasize generous social policies, external threats (real or imagined), and conservative values. Duda’s “Family Charter” pledges to keep the highly popular social support schemes for families as well as introduce a new holiday vouchers program. The charter also foresees a controversial “ban of propaganda of the LGBT ideology in public institutions”, which has attracted considerable criticism both from president’s opponents and supporters. Meanwhile, Trzaskowski is running a more inclusive campaign, pledging to unite the polarized society and end the constant “state of tension, conflict and crisis”. This reflects attempts to attract voters beyond the PO’s traditional electoral base, which is crucial for Trzaskowski in the (anticipated) second round.

While Duda remains a favorite, multiple developments in the remaining weeks could tilt the scales to either side. Besides the heated campaigning, some signposts to watch are voter turnout during the first round, the government’s effectiveness in preventing/responding to new Covid-19 outbreaks, or a potential Duda’s visit to the White House to discuss an increased presence of US troops in Poland.

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