Andrzej Duda’s reelection as Poland’s president gave the way for the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) to push reforms that collide with the course of Brussels. Duda’s narrow victory on Sunday, with 51.21 percent versus 48.79 percent for Warsaw’s centrist Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski of the Civic Platform (with 99.97 percent of polling stations reporting), gives him five more years as head of state, with the power to reject legislation that he doesn’t like.
Moreover, the PiS which supports Duda has at least three more years, until the next general election, to push its radical reform program and cement its place as Poland’s dominant political power. It has a majority in the lower chamber of parliament, while the opposition-controlled Senate doesn’t have the power to stop bills proposed by the right-wing party.
Duda’s supporters say his reelection ensures stability in challenging times, not least because of the coronavirus crisis. His opponents say the head of state will yet again lack the independence to provide checks and balances on Polish politics.
Here are some probable trends of the Polish line of behavior for the future five years noticed by the Politico.
1) Continued hard line on media and society
Duda and top PiS politicians, including the party’s powerful leader Jarosław Kaczyński, used the campaign to set out some of the priorities for the next three years of their almost unlimited power.
Continued reform of media laws creates the environment of restricting the press freedom and consolidating government control in a country where state-owned television serves as a voicer for the ruling party in a manner close to Communist times.
Critics expressed trough the news outlets funded from foreign sources provoked the complains of foreign interference from Duda and other PiS politicians.
Being adhere to the conservative views and supporting the values of the Catholic society Duda and his supporting party also used the campaign to whip up anti-LGBTQ sentiment and propose a constitutional amendment that would prohibit adopting children for the same-sex couples. Another legislative initiative, which might be approved by the controllable Constitutional Court, is ban on the abortion in cases of irreparable damage to fetus in the womb.
Big infrastructure projects which apparently would be continued are building a mega-airport in Central Poland and digging a canal through a Vistula Split — which Trzaskowski firmly opposed.
2) Opposing Brussels on courts and climate
Law and Justice spreads ambitions for bringing public institutions under centralized state control, covering local government and, crucially, the judiciary.
PiS’s large-scale reforms of Poland’s legal system over the past five years, supported by Duda, became the root of clashes between Warsaw and Brussels. The rule of law in Poland fell under the close scrutiny of the European Commission which organised four legal procedures to deal with the situation and to apply the disciplinary process relying on Article 7 on charges of breaching the EU’s fundamental values. This may lead to the situation of Poland’s deprivation of its voting rights in the EU.
Focus on the judicial reform in the country was confirmed by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro speaking that “finishing the judicial reform in the country is coming to the fore” when it comes to the priorities of the next term.
Another contradictions touch upon the EU climate neutrality target which gained adherence of all the member states except for Poland which refused to limit carbon emissions by 2050. However, Duda generally commits to EU membership and is not about to leave the bloc.
3) Opposition licks its wounds
The PiS and Duda promised that his reelection would mean three more years of political stability, but the noxious tone of the four-month campaign has taken its toll on many alliances and partnerships in Polish politics.
It’s still unclear what will be the future of the ruling coalition, made up of PiS and smaller right-wing groups: One junior partner, Porozumienie, didn’t approve of the first planned date of the presidential election in May because of concerns about coronavirus, even though Duda was then on a clear path to a first-round victory. PiS needs a coalition party to maintain its majority in the parliament but might start looking elsewhere, such as the far-right Konfederacja or the conservative Polish People’s Party.
There are also many question marks over the future of Civic Platform, the biggest opposition party. This is the sixth consecutive election in which it has lost to the PiS, and recently it has been shedding supporters rather than gaining new ones. Trzaskowski — who joined the race late in mid-May as a substitute for Małgorzata Kidwa-Błońska, who was doing very poorly in the polls — was seen by many as the last resort to reverse Civic Platform’s decline.
His defeat may prompt a reshuffle in the leadership and/or a shift in its focus. At the same time, Trzaskowski attracted almost 10 million votes on Sunday — a much higher number than any other opposition candidate has received in recent years. The party may decide it cannot waste that political capital.
In a speech on Monday afternoon, Trzaskowski congratulated Duda and said that he hoped his second term would be different than the first one. “It’s an enormous opportunity for the president to liberate from his own party, to listen not to the voice of one person all the time but to the citizens and veto those bills that are simply bad.”
“We will keep fighting,” he added. “It’s just another stage in our fight, because we need to get the state from the hands of one party.”
4) Divided society
Political and social divisions in Polish society have become so deep that exit polls were too close to call in the lead-up to Sunday’s second round of voting. They portrayed a country split down the middle between young and old, rural and urban, east and west. Duda attempted to address such divisions during the campaign, saying he “respects all Polish people regardless of their views.”
Beyond such words, however, the president did little to bury such differences in a campaign that politicians described as exceptionally brutal. Desperate to shore up conservative support, Duda launched an aggressive campaign against the LGBTQ community and urban elites, whose interests were defended by the Warsaw mayor.
PiS leader Kaczyński even attempted to appeal to latent anti-Semitic sentiment, using an interview with an ultra-Catholic broadcaster to accuse opposition candidate Trzaskowski of supporting the payment of restitution to Jews for property stolen during World War II.
Celebrating his apparent victory on Sunday night as the results came in, Duda made it clear that he “doesn’t regret” any remarks made during the campaign.
In his first address after securing victory, Duda called on voters to calm down after an emotional campaign. “I’m asking you to help me to glue Polish society together,” he told supporters in the village of Odrzywół in central Poland. “It was a very brutal campaign, sometimes probably too brutal. If someone felt offended by my words, please forgive me. And please, give me a chance in the next five years to improve.”
“We have three years until the next election. I hope it will be calm years, full of work,” he added.