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Hello Irlandia News 2nd July 2020

Our main story this week is of course the outcome of last Sunday’s first ballot in the Polish presidential election and where it leaves the race ahead of what will be the decisive second round run-off between Andrzej Duda and Rafał Trzaskowski on Sunday, July 12th.

The result of the first ballot was very much in line with an exit poll for private broadcaster TVN and indeed with opinion polls in the immediate run-up to the vote, albeit the final figures do show President Duda won slightly more support than in the exit poll which gave him 41.8% compared to 30.4% for Trzaskowski. The final official figures gave him 43.5% with Trzaskowski winning 30.46%, the independent Szymon Hołownia 13.87%, Konfederacja’s Krzysztof Bosak 6.78%, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz of the Polish People’s Party taking 2.36% and The Left’s Robert Biedroń 2.22%. In actual vote terms Duda won 8,450,513 votes to Trzaskowski’s 5,917,340.

The big question now is what this augurs for the decisive second ballot. In the immediate aftermath of the result Trzaskowski set about attempting to rally first round voters for the eliminated opposition candidates behind him, even going so far in congratulating Krzysztof Bosak on his vote as saying that he shared many of the same views on economic freedom as Konfederacja. Of course there would be a very large chasm in outlook on social and cultural issues amongst others, between voters for Trzaskowski and Bosak. Hołownia is expected to endorse Trzaskowski but will first present him with a list of priorities from his political movement. Konfederacja will not be formally endorsing any candidate in the second ballot.

The opinion polls show Duda and Trzaskowski now locked in an extremely tight contest. Duda is regarded as the most marginal of favourites but with the polls this close it’s really impossible to predict the outcome. One exit poll of first round voters given the straight second round choice showed Duda leading Trzaskowski by 0.7%. What we can expect is a no-holes-barred contest for the second ballot.

So what can we read into the first ballot results for the individual major contenders and for Polish politics more generally. For Duda, by any realistic measure, it’s a very strong vote for an incumbent President seeking re-election. Much of the foreign media coverage focused on his alleged ‘failure’ to secure outright victory in the first round. That was never realistically going to happen – apart from, perhaps, in the artificial atmosphere at the height of the Coronavirus lockdown when his ratings soared as the public face of efforts to contain the virus. His vote percentage is all the more remarkable in light of the exceptionally high turnout of 64.5% only surpassed by that in the 1995 presidential contest between Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski. For all we know Sunday week the turnout, again by a combination of postal and in-person voting, may even exceed that.

In the case of Trzaskowski, a last minute replacement candidate for the withdrawn Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, he’s proved to be a very effective campaigner who extended his appeal beyond Platforma Obywatelska’s voters and undoubtedly now has a realistic chance of winning the presidency. He’s done so partly by moderating his rhetoric beyond just criticism of the sitting President and government – such an attempt to create an air of positivity is something he’s likely to continue to do for the second ballot.

Of those now eliminated from the contest, the big winner in terms of exceeding expectations at the start of the contest is Szylom Hołownia. How he takes that potential political base forward from here is the big question. On Tuesday he said he was establishing a new ‘social movement’ called ‘Polska 2050’ as a ‘third political voice’ to do just that. However, for a non-career politician without an existing support base in parliament or party infrastructure, it’ll prove a considerable challenge and something very many other celebrity type candidates have previously failed to accomplish in Poland.

For Konfederacja the result is also a relative success – Krzysztof Bosak personally carried himself well in the campaign and grew his support, and for the right-wing alliance it shows their vote base is solid and likely to be required for a governing bloc in the not too distant future.

The showings of both Robert Biedroń and Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz can hardly be described as anything other than disastrous. In the case of Biedroń, the explanation is probably a combination of two things – his own failure to mount an inspiring or effective campaign and having his political clothes and voters stolen by Rafał Trzaskowski. There’s little reason though to believe that Biedroń’s result would be translated into a similar vote collapse for Lewica as a whole in a parliamentary election.

In the immediate aftermath of the result Kosiniak-Kamysz said he wouldn’t be resigning as leader of the Polish People’s Party, which is of course part of a parliamentary alliance with Kukiz’15. While the Polish People’s Party has traditionally fared poorly in presidential elections, Kosiniak-Kamysz must have hoped to do much better with himself as the candidate. To a lesser extent than in the case of Biedroń, some of his potential support will have been hoovered up by Trzaskowski. Given that the Polish People’s Party and Kukiz’15 decided to tie- up with each other to ensure they passed the threshold for Sejm representation in the last parliamentary election, this result will increase fears for their political future. It may also lead to more introspection within the Polish People’s Party about the political direction, more to the left, in which Kosiniak-Kamysz has led the traditionally rural based party.

It’s also fair to say that despite glitches and frustrations for individual electors, of which there have been many including amongst the Polish community in Ireland, that in all the circumstances the smooth holding of the election with the huge turnout has been a strong vindication of the democratic process in Poland. The total valid poll was 19.43m. Even after the first ballot there was a further surge in overseas voters wishing to register in order to participate in the second round during the registration window which was open on Monday.

While Andrzej Duda won the most votes overall, that was not the case amongst those Poles who voted in Ireland. Here, Duda came in third place with 3,079 votes or 16.1% behind Rafał Trzaskowski who got 9,344 votes or 48.85% and Szymon Hołownia who won 3,618 votes or 18.92%. The other results for the major candidates amongst the Polish electorate in Ireland were 1,893 for Krzysztof Bosak (9.9%), 749 for Robert Biedroń (3.92%) and 276 for Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (1.44%). The total valid poll in Ireland was 19,126.

Overall the first round result amongst the Polish electorate overseas was decisively in favour of Trzaskowski, though with sharp geographical divisions. Emigrant Polish voters in the US and Canada strongly backed Andrzej Duda for a second term while voters in the UK, Germany, Ireland and Europe generally, favoured the challenger, Trzaskowski. Of the total overseas vote of 311,124 Trzaskowski won 48.13% compared to 20.86% for Duda.

In terms of the task ahead for both men, Duda will look to run a stronger campaign than he managed to do for the first ballot, albeit a vote of 43.5% in a race with eleven candidates is a very strong starting point. His supporters will also be encouraged by the fact that the combined vote for Duda and Konferacja’s Krzysztof Bosak was above the 50% mark as while Konferacja is part of the opposition there would be a natural ideological affinity on the right between many of the voters for the Prawo i Sprawliedwość – backed Duda and Konferacja. Duda will, however, need to thread a careful path in his rhetoric and campaign strategy between mobilising his core conservative vote base with appeals on social questions such as LGBT rights or ideology and not turning away more liberal and centrist voters.

For Trzaskowski, who to date has been remarkably successful in mobilising the liberal vote behind him, the challenge is similar – to turn-out the vote base he already has and mob-up first round voters for Robert Biedroń, while appealing to centrist or moderate conservative voters who may have supported Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz or especially Szymon Hołownia last Sunday. As shown by his swift outreach even to Konfederacja it’s a challenge he’s well aware of the importance of, given his opening position of being 13 percentage points behind Andrzej Duda on the first ballot.

An interesting 10 days ahead!

In other news yesterday, July 1st, was the first day of Poland’s year long presidency of the Visegrad Group, the four nation regional cooperation bloc established in 1991 comprising the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, as well as Poland. Poland takes over the chair from the Czech Republic.

On Wednesday officials confirmed that Russia’s Gazprom has returned US$1.5bn to Poland’s state-owned gas company it overcharged for supplies, complying with a ruling by an international arbitration panel. President Duda welcomed the announcement saying it was the ‘result of an effective policy’ pursued by the Polish side ‘when it comes to the diversification of gas supplies’. His chief of staff Krzysztof Szczerski described the payment as “a great diplomatic and judicial victory for Poland over a company that has hiked prices in an unauthorized way.”

Poczta Polska, the country’s postal service, has issued a new stamp in honour of Jan Kowalewski, a cryptologist whose work contributed to the Polish victory over the invading Bolsheviks 100 years ago. He’s credited with deciphering Soviet military codes during the 1919-1921 Polish – Russian war. In October the Senate adopted a resolution declaring 2020 the Year of Jan Kowalewski.

Finally, Poland’s Robert Lewandowski has won the golden boot award as the top scorer in Germany’s Bundesliga for the 2019/2020 season, where he plays for Bayern Munich. It’s his fifth time to win the trophy. He’d earlier been named the Bundesliga player of the season, winning 57% of the votes in a poll conducted by the official Bundesliga website.

To wszystko na ten tydzień. Zapraszam na kolejne podsumowanie za tydzień o tej samej porze.

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