Polish President Duda re-elected in narrow race

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WARSAW • Polish President Andrzej Duda has won five more years in power on a deeply conservative platform after a closely fought election that is likely to deepen the country’s isolation in the European Union.

Nearly final results from Sunday’s presidential election show him to have more than 51 per cent of the votes, giving him an unassailable lead over Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who won almost 49 per cent, the National Election Commission said.

Mr Duda is allied with the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, and his victory will give the government a new mandate to pursue reforms of the judiciary and media which the executive European Commission (EC) says subvert democratic standards.

“I don’t want to speak on behalf of the campaign staff, but I think that this difference is large enough that we have to accept the result,” said Mr Grzegorz Schetyna, former head of the opposition Civic Platform grouping that fielded Mr Trzaskowski.

Backed by PiS, Mr Duda ran an acrimonious campaign, laced with homophobic language, attacks on private media and accusations that Mr Trzaskowski served foreign interests instead of Poland’s. Mr Trzaskowski dismissed the accusations.

Mr Duda’s victory opens the way for new clashes between Poland and the EC, as the EU tries to deal with the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and rising nationalism across the 27-member bloc.

Before PiS and Mr Duda came to power in 2015, Poland had one of the most pro-European administrations in the bloc’s former communist east. But it has become increasingly combative, with divisions focusing on climate change and migration, besides democratic norms.

Mr Trzaskowski, who has been mayor since 2018, had said he would seek a more tolerant Poland if elected. He has criticised PiS’ rhetoric, vowing to abolish state news channel TVP Info, which critics say gave overt support to Mr Duda in its programming.

But to many religious conservatives in Poland, a predominantly Catholic nation, Mr Trzaskowski came to represent the threats facing traditional values when he pledged to introduce education about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights in the city’s schools.

Dr Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University, said: “It’s what populists do very effectively. You name the enemy and you focus on combating him. This is what was used in this campaign, the fear of others.”

In the last week of campaigning, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski accused Mr Trzaskowski of being at the centre of attempts to allow minorities to “terrorise” the rest of society.

Economic policy was also at the heart of the election, with Mr Duda painting himself as a guardian of generous PiS welfare programmes that have transformed life for many poorer Poles since the party came to power in 2015.

PiS now faces the prospect of three years of uninterrupted rule, with the next parliamentary election scheduled for 2023.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro suggested the party could push on quickly with its conservative agenda following the vote.

REUTERS

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