The news this week is of course dominated by the result of last Sunday’s second round vote in the Polish presidential election.
Our main stories include:
• Andrzej Duda secures a second five year term in office as President of Poland with a 51% to 49% victory over Rafał Trzaskowski on a near record turnout
• Polish voters in Ireland favour Rafał Trzaskowski with 77% of the vote, while domestically Duda wins decisively outside the major cities
• Trzaskowski concedes defeat although the opposition mounts some elections protests while acknowledging any issues weren’t material to the result and an
• Oświęcim court delivers its verdict in the 2017 Beata Szydło motorcade car accident case.
Just have 9pm (8pm Irish time) on Sunday evening the Ipsos exit poll on the second and decisive round of the presidential election flashed on television screens – it showed incumbent President Andrzej Duda the projected winner with 50.4% of the vote compared to 49.6% for Warszawa Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. Even though the 0.8% margin was within the poll’s 2% margin of error, judging by the exit poll results from the first round two weeks earlier which had marginally underestimated support for Andrzej Duda, the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość-backed candidate looked well placed to win. Both candidates claimed victory on election night before their supporters with Andrzej Duda giving a conciliatory speech in which he said that ‘If anyone felt offended by my actions, please accept my apologies.’ His daughter Kinga also spoke in similar terms at the end of the bitter contest, calling for respect for everyone irrespective of their political beliefs. Trzaskowski told his supporters that he ‘knew the result would be close and it is’ but predicted that the results would get better and better for their side – but they didn’t. Later on election night Ipsos updated their poll figures to give Duda a 50.8% vote share.
The following day Trzaskowski conceded defeat once it became clear Andrzej Duda had an unassailable lead. In what could be called a back-handed compliment he said that ‘May this term really be different’.
The final results announced by the National Electoral Commission gave President Duda 51.03% of the vote compared to 48.97% for Rafał Trzaskowski. The margin in actual votes was 422,385 with 10,440,648 votes cast for Duda and 10,018,263 for Trzaskowski. The turnout was a near record – but not quite. Turnout last Sunday combining in-person and postal voting was 68.18%, up from 64.51% in the first ballot. It was just short of the record turnout of 68.2% recorded in the 1995 presidential contest second round between Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski.
In the run-up to the vote, as the opinion polls continued to tighten with some even giving Trzaskowski a slim lead, Duda made a direct appeal for support from voters across the whole spectrum of the Polish right, from the centre-right to the far right. He said the current Zjednoczona Prawica government could be expanded to include the Polish People’s Party and Kuziz’15 in the centre and Konfederacja on the far right. How practical that would be is an open question, but it was a clear attempt to extend an olive branch beyond the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość electorate.
Last Thursday prior to the vote, the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, accused the foreign, and especially the German, media of interfering in the election. The comments came in light of the story in a German-owned tabloid about a controversial presidential pardon. Kaczyński said that ‘An unusually brutal, very far-reaching intervention by the press took place. Let’s not brush this aside.’ Prawo i Sprawiedliwość has repeatedly called for a reduction in foreign media ownership in Poland, but to-date taken few steps to bring it about.
In terms of Poland’s 16 provinces Duda actually won the most votes in just 6, but where he did win, he won very well indeed and in no province did his support fall under 40%. In Podkarpackie Duda won almost 71% of the vote; he took over 66% in Lubelskie. To look at the result in terms of the provincial map as between western and eastern Poland is to oversimplify matters – in general, irrespective of the region Trzaskowski won in the big cities and urban centres while Duda won everywhere else.
The result will come as both a huge relief and a morale boost for the Mateusz Morawiecki government after what’s been a difficult year politically for them, despite their victory in last autumn’s general election. Had the result gone the other way the very continuance in office of the government would have been in doubt. In all the circumstances with the election delayed from May, the disruption of Coronavirus and the near split with Porozumienie, it’s a considerable personal achievement for Andrzej Duda to win a second term in office, and one which testifies to his strengths as a campaigner. As we’ve alluded to before in our previews of the poll, Duda has been consistently popular personally, outperforming the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość support base. That said he would not have won without that support – that fact it’s turned out in such numbers points to Prawo i Sprawiedliwość’s continued political success with the formula of maintaining a strong economy, even with the current challenges, more generous social programmes than under Platforma Obywatelska and a strong appeal to Polish patriotism.
Rafał Trzaskowski, despite ultimately not making it all the way, is also a winner in establishing himself as a major political player and figuratively rescuing Platforma Obywatelska’s irons from the fire once he replaced Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska as their candidate. A big political future, beyond Warszawa, must surely await him. Interestingly though, there were reports that he was abandoned in the second round by some of his most liberal supporters on issues such as LGBT rights, who thought he’d gone a step too far in wooing more conservative voters, including by coming out against same-sex adoption.
Once the official result was declared on Monday, there was a truncated period of three days, up until today, to make election protests to the extraordinary control and public affairs chamber of the Supreme Court claiming irregularities. The Trzaskowski campaign did so and also encouraged individual complaints. They focused in particular on technical difficulties faced by overseas electors most of whom only had the option of postal voting, and on alleged anti-Trzaskowski bias by public broadcaster, TVP. However, despite the protests the Trzaskowski campaign accepted the result overall, in light of the clear margin of victory for Duda.
So what was the story with overseas electors, and especially those in Ireland? Well here it was a very different story to that overall, with Rafał Trzaskowski winning a resounding victory among the Polish electorate in Ireland. Of 24,007 valid votes cast, he won 18,503 or 77% compared to 5,504 or 23% for Andrzej Duda. Of the more than 29,000 Poles living in Ireland who registered for the election, 24,141 returned ballot papers. Overall Trzaskowski won decisively among Poles abroad with 74% of the 415,951 valid overseas votes returned, although Duda did win among the Polish electorate in the United States.
The international reaction to the result was along expected lines with some congratulations to President Duda probably more sincerely felt than others. President Trump, who held a White House meeting with him just prior to the first ballot, tweeted warm congratulations saying ‘Congratulations to my friend President Andrzej Duda of Poland on his historic re-election. Looking forward to continuing our important work together across many issues, including defence, trade, energy, and telecommunications security’. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, while UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also congratulated Duda on his re-election.
Here, not surprisingly given their previous editorial commentary on questions about the ‘rule of law’ in Poland, the editorial writer for Monday’s Irish Times wasn’t happy. An article which was to say the least a quiet extraordinary reflection on the outcome of a free and democratic election in which the defeated candidate had accepted the result and congratulated his opponent, said among other things that ‘Andrzej Duda’s victory will reinforce the country’s authoritarian drift and prolong tensions with the European Union’, and that ‘the result is a demoralising reversal for those who hoped Poland could navigate its way out of the nightmare that has been PiS rule.’ Sadly at many stages in its history Poland has experienced genuine nightmares – whatever your stance in the cut and thrust of political argument, it’s a harsh judgment to say the least. The article concluded by saying that ‘An election that could have offered Poland some respite after five bitter and tumultuous years has produced a result that will deepen the country’s fissures and speed up its estrangement from the European mainstream’.
We’ll move on…
Andrzej Duda’s chief of staff, Krzysztof Szczerski, said that following his victory President Duda will concentrate on foreign relations as well as working with local authorities and parliamentary groups in Poland to address the country’s most pressing problems, including Covid-19 and its economic impact. President Duda is reportedly planning an autumn visit to Italy and the Vatican among the first overseas trips of his second term.
In other news…
Last Thursday a court in Oświęcim finally delivered its verdict in a controversial case arising from the February 2017 car accident involving a motorcade carrying the then Prime Minister, Beata Szydło, finding the motorist involved guilty but imposing a minimal penalty. The case has been ‘conditionally discontinued’ with the motorist to pay 1,000 złoty compensation to Mrs. Szydło and one of her security officers. The prosecution had wanted a one year prison term. The court also ruled that the security officer driving the Prime Minister’s car had violated the traffic regulations. This case will now be referred to the prosecutor’s office.
As of Wednesday morning, the total number of reported Covid-19 cases in Poland stood at 38,721 with 1,594 deaths being attributed to the virus. Of 264 new daily cases, 90 were in the southern region of Silesia where there’s been a particular issue in the coal mines.
On Tuesday the European Commission approved, with some conditions attached, the planned merger of Poland’s two largest fuel companies – PKN Orlen and Lotos. PKN Orlen is Poland’s largest oil refining company and the Lotus group is the second largest. The CEO of PKN Orlen, Daniel Obajtek, claimed that the merger was necessary for the Polish economy as a whole, telling reporters that ‘There is no room in Poland for two such concerns. We must develop and invest very quickly, and we cannot duplicate investments’. The Commission had been concerned at the reduction in competition in the marketplace but approved the merger with conditions
On Wednesday the Presidents of Poland and Lithuania attended a commemorative event marking the 610th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald. Taking place in 1410, it was one of the largest battles in mediaeval Europe. It saw Polish and Lithuanian forces defeat the Knights of the Teutonic Order. The two heads of state also held talks centring on bilateral relations and regional cooperation. Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda is the first foreign head of state to visit Poland since the start of the Coronavirus crisis. The Polish and Lithuanian Prime Ministers also attended the ceremony, which took place at the site of the battle in present-day northern Poland. On Tuesday Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis received one of Poland’s highest state honours – the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit – for his contribution to strengthening bilateral relations.
On Tuesday the visiting U.S. Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, held talks with Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak in Warszawa. He was quoted as saying the U.S. military presence ‘would ensure democracy, freedom, and respect for sovereignty’. The visit came as a fresh round of U.S. – Polish military exercises got underway in Drawsko Pomorskie, north western Poland. 500 U.S. troops are participating in an ‘emergency deployment readiness’ exercise involving the deployment of an American armoured unit to Poland. The drills are the second phase of the multi-national training exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20, which has been modified due to Covid-19.
On Monday events took place in Poland to mark the 20th anniversary of the death on July 13th, 2000, of the legendary Second World War hero, Jan Karski, who attempted to bring the Holocaust to the attention of the West. Ceremonies took place in both Warszawa and Łódż, Karski’s birthplace. He was also the author of the books Story of a Secret State and The Great Powers and Poland: 1919-1945, from Versailles to Yalta. Karski moved to the United States after the war becoming a U.S. citizen in 1954 and working as a professor at Georgetown University.
To szystko na ten ty-dzień.
We do hope that you’ve enjoyed Hello Irlandia’s coverage of the presidential election – irrespective of your political view, an exercise in democracy is always a wonderful thing. We certainly enjoyed bringing it to you.