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FANvoices | 2020 presidential election in Poland

Poland even further from Europe – the 2020 presidential election

Marcin Kozak, FAN Ambassador Poland

Andrzej Duda won the presidential election in Poland despite the mobilization of anti-government electorates. The voter turnout record in the 21st century (68.18%, despite the pandemic!) shows not only the involvement of citizens, but also how divided the country is.

FIRST MYSTERY – WHO CHOSE THIS PRESIDENT?

First, the numbers. The candidate of the ruling party, Andrzej Duda from Law and Justice party, obtained 51.03% of the votes (10 440 648). Rafał Trzaskowski from the largest opposition group, the Civic Coalition, got 48.97% (10 018 263). The difference was close to half a million votes. Slight but visible.

The high turnout was equally favorable to both candidates.

It seems that the liberal candidate has practically reached the limit of his voters.The opposition candidate was supported by the majority of significant participants in the first round (and their voters), both left-wing Robert Biedroń, former coalition partner Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz from the center-agrarian party, and the Christian Democrat Szymon Hołownia. Krzysztof Bosak – far right-wing politician – did not indicate his favorite, and his voters voted almost 50/50.

Therefore, Rafał Trzaskowski significantly exceeded his group’s voter base, gathering a broad coalition based on dissatisfaction with Andrzej Duda’s term.

Meanwhile, the incumbent president threatened Poles that Trzaskowski’s victory would mean the withdrawal of social reforms in recent years (such as a 500+ child supplement or an hourly minimum wage). In addition, he equated his candidacy with the manipulated “demands” of the LGBT+ community (e.g. forcing children to masturbate). The strategy based on highlighting the social successes of the government in terms of redistribution (Duda avoided the difficult subject of neglected public services: schools, hospitals), fear of the return of previous governments and attacks on minorities (refugees, LGBT+) has mobilized not only the hard electorate of Law and Justice, but also the general beneficiaries of the last five years. They voted for Andrzej Duda, despite the lack of support for his actions, e.g. regarding the rule of law or conflict with the European Union.

The opposition may look for the reasons for failure in many interpretative contexts: historical partitions, urban-rural dispute, liberal Poland versus conservative Poland, no effective offer for Duda voters, poor performance among older voters, no sufficient mobilization against Law and Justice, classist attacks, scandalous use of public television and the direct involvement of the government in the campaign (even weather alerts were used – more on the irregularities indicated by the ODIHR’s Special Election Assessment Mission can be read here). None of the above explain the election result decisively, but it seems clear that the strategy of dialogue with Law and Justice supporters must replace the mobilization of the liberal metropolitan electorate.

WHAT IS NEXT?

Shortly after the election results were announced, the politicians of the ruling party shared plans for which a favorable president is needed.
Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro was the first to speak more broadly. Those who naively expected conciliatory gestures towards Rafał Trzaskowski’s voters could be disappointed.
Zbigniew Ziobro announced the continuation of the most controversial reforms, the content of which – following the model of the Hungarian scenario – will conflict with European rule of law and human rights. First of all – due to the poor results of Duda among younger voters – he emphasized the need for deeper changes in the education system. In practice, this means intrusive pseudo-patriotic propaganda and lack of pluralism. As he said in an interview: “We are facing a huge challenge. If we do not do it now, if we do not deal with education, if we don’t deal with the sphere of teaching at universities, if we don’t deal with the media, we’ll lose the battle for Polish souls”. This approach goes beyond the normal understanding of democracy – it is aggressive authoritarian language and reasoning.

Secondly – media repolonization, which indicates de-concentration act. The government will try to expel foreign capital from the Polish press market and take over more press titles by private entities associated with the ruling party and state-owned companies. Critical journalistic activity towards the government will be hindered. Details of the plan can be found here. In addition, professional self-government for journalists is planned. This entails a hunt against independent journalists organized by governing body ruled by pro-government members.

Andrzej Duda’s victory also means further destabilization of the work of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court – institutions that the government of Law and Justice has been taking over piece by piece for years. In the coming years, only judges approved by the new authority will judge there. For detailed information about on the consequences of Duda’s re-election for the judicial system in Poland you may look here. This thread is one of the main axes of the dispute between the CJEU and the Polish government. Duda signed legislation, which is incompatible with the Constitution and EU law, as confirmed by the EU’s Court of Justice in its judgement of June 2019 regarding the Supreme Court law. There will also be further reforms of the ordinary judiciary and repression of defiant judges using legal tricks bypassing constitutional guarantees for judges.

CLOSER TO THE HUNGARIAN SCENARIO THAN THE EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVE

These results also foreshadow deepening of the conflict with the European Union, which is particularly important in the context of economic recovery from the pandemic crisis. The EU will not eagerly finance a country where the president attacks sexual minorities and EU’s Court of Justice judgments are not properly enforced. Poland continues to follow the Hungarian concept of existence in the European community.

 



Marcin Kozak
– PhD Candidate in Philosophy at the University of Warsaw (Faculty of “Artes Liberales”), Editor at The Wiktor Osiatyński Archive&RuleOfLaw.pl. European Forum Alpbach 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 participant and scholarship holder. Rule of Law in Poland is an independent English-language online resource devoted to recent developments concerning all principles which fall within the scope of the rule of law and international commitments.

European Forum Alpbach 2020, Programme: 2020.alpbach.org