Poland Holds Momentous, Tight Presidential Election Runoff

WARSAW (AP) -
An election official disinfects a table of the voting booth during the second round of presidential election at a polling station in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday. (Reuters/Aleksandra Szmigiel)

Voting started Sunday in Poland’s razor-blade-close presidential election runoff between the conservative incumbent, President Andrzej Duda, and liberal, pro-European Union Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.

Duda is backed by the ruling right-wing party and the government, as he seeks a second 5-year term. Trzaskowski, a former European Parliament lawmaker, runs for the main opposition Civic Platform Party that was in power from 2007 to 2015. Both candidates are 48.

Latest polls showed that the race may be decided by a very small margin. Amid calls from both sides to some 30 million eligible voters to cast ballots, turnout is expected to be higher than the 64.51% in the first round on June 28.

In the first round, Duda got 43.5% and Trzaskowski 30.5%, but in the second round he is expected to get support from many voters who backed candidates who have now been eliminated.

Lines started forming at some voting stations early Sunday, and cars could be seen bringing elderly or disabled people.

“We should vote because otherwise we have no right to complain about our politics,” said Eugeniusz Kowalski, 67, a retired office clerk. “We could use some change,” he said after voting in Warsaw.

Voting stations remain open until 9 p.m. (local time), when exit polls will be released. The final official results are expected early in the week.

The outcome of the election will decide the shape of politics in deeply divided Poland at least until 2023, when parliamentary elections are scheduled.

If Duda is reelected, the right-wing Law and Justice Party that backs him will continue to have a close ally in the president and maintain its hold on almost all key instruments of power in the country.

The party and Duda have won popularity through a welfare program that improved the lives of many families and elderly people, especially in rural and small town areas, and also through its attachment to Poland’s traditional Roman Catholic values.

But the party has drawn criticism from EU leaders for steps allowing it to influence the justice system. It has also exposed and deepened social rifts between the conservatives and the liberals.

Trzaskowski’s win would give him the power to veto laws passed by the ruling party. Poland’s tone would also be softened on the international arena and especially with the EU. He has vowed to close the social rifts and to continue the social benefits policy.

His support is strongest in larger cities and among more highly educated people, according to data from the first round.

The voting is being held under strict sanitary conditions due to the still spreading coronavirus. Poland has registered over 37,000 infections and almost 1,600 deaths.

Voters must wear masks and gloves, maintain a safe distance and use hand sanitizer. They can use their own pens to mark ballots. Election officials must wear masks, too, and sit wide apart from each other. Ballot boxes will be regularly disinfected and the polling stations will be ventilated.