Poland’s incumbent President Andrzej Duda, a social conservative aligned with the ruling populist Law and Justice Party (PiS), secured a second term in office Sunday with a narrow margin of victory after an ill-tempered, mudslinging presidential race.
His challengers supporters said they plan to contest the election result in Polands courts, a legal tussle likely to worsen the bitter polarization of the country.
After a tight runoff race, Duda won 51.21% of the vote, while his opponent, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski of the liberal Civic Platform Party, took 48.79%. The preliminary result was declared with 99.97% of polling stations reporting. The electoral commission said the votes yet to be counted will not materially affect Dudas overall win.
The incumbents secured reelection was the slimmest victory margin for any presidential victor since the end of communism in 1989.
“I think there will certainly be electoral protests, and I think the whole issue will end up in the Supreme Court,” political scientist Anna Materska-Sosnowska told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Dudas political opponents claimed voting “irregularities” in polling stations and said many Poles living overseas did not receive ballots in time to vote.
Despite the closeness of the race, Dudas supporters said he won a clear mandate since the turnout was high — just under 70%. They said his win opens the path for the PiS to continue with contentious reforms of the judiciary and media regulations, which have raised the ire of the European Union. If Trzaskowski had won, he would have been able to block some legislation by using a presidential veto.
“Winning the presidential election with 70% of turnout is excellent news,” Duda said at an event in Pultusk on Sunday. “I’m very moved.”
Trzaskowski said, “Weve already won, regardless of the final result. We have managed to wake up. We have managed to create new hope.”
Pollsters had said the race was too close to call in the days leading up to voting. The election campaign centered on Dudas promise to ban LGBTQ education in schools and his refusal to endorse same-sex marriage or gay adoption.
The incumbent president enjoyed a commanding lead in opinion polls before the coronavirus pandemic impacted Poland. Pollsters say Duda would have likely won more votes if the election, which was delayed because of the pandemic, had taken place in May as scheduled.
Oxford University-educated Trzaskowski, the candidate of the Civic Coalition (KO) alliance, the countrys main centrist opposition bloc, proved to be an energetic campaigner and hoped to pull off a win by uniting all opposition parties behind his challenge.
The race became so toxic that neither candidate would agree to debate each other in person on the eve of the vote, choosing instead to hold one-man “debates” on separate television channels at the same time.
Poles were not the only ones watching the election closely. This is the first nationwide poll in Europe, aside from Frances recent municipal elections, since the coronavirus arrived in Europe, and is being seen by some as a possible bellwether on the strength of social conservatism in Europe.