Poland’s main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), today confirmed that they are changing candidates for this year’s presidential election. Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, the previous nominee, has been replaced by Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw.

The decision ends weeks of speculation that PO could abandon Kidawa-Błońska following a campaign in which she went from being the main challenger to incumbent Andrzej Duda to recently polling in only fourth or fifth place. But it also opens up the possibility of opposition-ruled Warsaw falling under the control of a government nominee.

Rumours about Kidawa-Błońska’s position increased after the abandonment of last Sunday’s scheduled presidential election, which was declared void after no voting took place amid the coronavirus pandemic. The electoral commission has called for a new election to be held, which opens up the possibility of new candidates standing.

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Yesterday evening, various media reported that PO would announce a change of candidate today. Three names were believed to be in the frame: Trzaskowski, Senate speaker Tomasz Grodzki, and former foreign and defence minister Radosław Sikorski.

This morning, Kidawa-Błońska confirmed the speculation by holding a press conference in parliament to announce her resignation from the candidacy. She issued the statement without any party colleagues alongside her, with reports indicating that she herself had insisted on standing alone.

Kidawa-Błońska admitted that she was to blame for falling poll numbers, saying that the public did not know whether she was actually standing in this month’s scheduled elections. She had declared that she was boycotting them, but had not formally withdrawn from the race, leaving some voters confused.

“I do not want my burden to pass on to my party, I take that responsibility,” said Kidawa-Błońska today. But she added that “without my strong voice…this May election would probably have taken place”. She did not take any questions from the media.

President Duda issued a statement thanking Kidawa-Błońska for her “cultured rivalry” during the campaign and wishing her “good luck in your further work for Poland”.

PO then held a five-hour board meeting to discuss whom to nominate as the new candidate. Gazeta Wyborcza reports that they also ordered polling to see which choice would have the greatest chance of success against Duda. Other than Donald Tusk (who has ruled out standing), Trzaskowski was the strongest challenger.

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At a press conference this afternoon, PO’s leader, Borys Budka, confirmed that Trzaskowski was the board’s unanimous choice. The new candidate paid tribute to his predecessor, saying that “if it were not for [her], Andrzej Duda would today be the president elected in undemocratic elections”.

But Trzaskowski also hinted at the problems that PO has had not just in the current campaign, but ever since losing power in 2015, during which time it has lost five national elections in a row to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

“We must find the answers to Poles’ pressing problems, and we will find these answers,” said Trzaskowski, who was elected as mayor of the capital in a landslide victory against his PiS rival in 2018. “It won’t be easy for us…The world is changing…[But I] take responsibility for the fight for democracy, for a strong state.”

Trzaskowski has long been marked as a rising star in PO, serving as a minister in 2013-15. He is seen as representing the more socially liberal wing of what is a broad centrist party.

One of Trzaskowski’s first acts as mayor of Warsaw was to sign a declaration in support of LGBT rights. That decision was used by PiS to launch a vociferous anti-LGBT campaign ahead of European and parliamentary elections last year. The issue has featured little in this year’s presidential campaign, but may now return with Trzaskowski’s candidacy.

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Some voices in PO were opposed to Trzaskowski’s nomination due to concerns over what would happen in Warsaw were he to win election as president. In that case, the prime minister would appoint a commissioner to run the city until new elections were called to pick a permanent replacement, a process that could take a few months.

Trzaskowski himself just a few days ago said that he was not intending to run for president because it could mean “my beloved city falling into the hands of a PiS commissioner, and this cannot be allowed”, reports Onet.

His predecessor as mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who is also a former deputy leader of PO, last night warned against “handing over Warsaw to a commissioner from PiS”, urging the party to pick Sikorski as its candidate instead.

Another challenge for Trzaskowski will be collecting the requisite 100,000 signatures required to stand in the presidential election. Candidates from the previous cancelled election have been exempted from having to do so, but new candidates will need to gather the signatures amid the pandemic and possibly within a short time frame.

The PiS speaker of parliament is yet to announced a new election date, with July or August seen as the most likely months, but some talking of June as a possibility.

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Main image credit: EPP/Flickr (under CC BY 2.0)

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