The presidential candidate of Poland’s main opposition party has held a political rally, drawing a crowd of hundreds. Some commentators, as well as his political opponents, have raised concern over the apparent lack of respect for lockdown guidelines.

Rafał Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw, was picked by Civic Platform (PO) as its new candidate last month, following the authorities’ failure to organise scheduled presidential elections on 10 May.

A new election date has not yet been announced, meaning that official campaigning is not permitted. But Trzaskowski has travelled the country to hold “pre-campaign” meetings, presenting the outline of his programme and criticising the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

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During that period he has seen his polling figures rise dramatically. PO’s previous candidate, Małgorzata Kidada-Błońska, had fallen to single-figure support, putting her as low as fifth in the race.

The latest polls show Trzaskowski at around 27%, well ahead of all other opposition candidates and eating into the lead of incumbent Andrzej Duda, who has fallen from support of over 60% in some polls last month to around 40% now.

“One of the main advantages of Trzaskowski’s pre-campaign is his energy and determination,” Sławomir Sowiński, a political scientist, told Tok FM. “He brings back emotions that Civic Plaftorm was lacking. He showed that in order to defend the values you believe in, you have to fight.”

Trzaskowski’s latest event saw a large crowd gather on Poznań’s Freedom Square to hear the candidate set out his vision for a “new solidarity”.

“We need a new policy, reestablishing bonds between Poles,” said Trzaskowski. “Let’s leave the politicians who are quarrelling to themselves.”

He also sought to dismiss concerns that electing an opposition president would create a deadlock. “I won’t be a president fighting the government, I won’t be a president of total opposition,” said Trzaskowski. “The president needs to cooperate.”

In his speech, Trzaskowski repeated his recent praise for the government’s flagship “500+” child-benefit programme. While it was criticised as unaffordable by PO when first introduced, Trzaskowski now said PiS deserves credit for introducing the idea.

He also referred positively to the legacy of Lech Kaczyński, the late president and a founder of PiS, which is led by his twin brother, Jarosław. Trzaskowski said that he hoped Poland could return to the spirit of cooperation, even between rivals, that had been represented by Lech Kaczyński.

However he stressed that he would be a “fully independent president” who is a partner of the government but not its tool – a jibe aimed at President Duda, whom critics accuse of rubber stamping bills passed by PiS.

“Trzaskowski is not fighting [just] to get into the second round; he wants to win and is thus reaching out beyond the typical Civic Platform electorate,” says Sowiński.

In Polish presidential elections, if no candidate wins more than 50% in the first round of voting, a second-round run-off between the two with the most votes takes place.

After Trzaskowski’s meeting in Poznań, many raised concern at the apparent lack of compliance with sanitary guidelines. Despite the government’s latest easing of lockdown measures, gatherings are still supposed to be restricted to a maximum size of 150 and participants must either wear masks or be at least two metres apart.

These rules do not seem to have been observed in the audience at Trzaskowski’s rally, with police estimating that hundreds were in attendance, according to TVP Info.

“Hundreds of people without face masks, with no social distancing during the meeting with Rafał Trzaskowski,” tweeted Marek Balawajder, a journalist from RMF FM. “How is this supposed to be a responsible politician, if he organises a rally in such conditions? It’s stupidity to say the least.”

Meanwhile, an MP from the ruling camp, Jan Kanthak, recalled that not long ago PO was protesting against holding elections on 10 May due to purported concerns over public health amid the epidemic. PiS has always argued that PO were actually doing this for political reasons, as they felt they stood more chance of winning a delayed election.

“It was enough to change their candidate and suddenly it turned out that political rallies are fine,” wrote Kanthak. “They will say and promise anything just to get back to power.”

Since PO’s change in candidates, leading figures from PiS have been seeking to portray the Warsaw mayor’s liberal values – in particular his support for LGBT rights – as a threat to Polish tradition.

The elections will be “a choice between the white-and-red Poland represented by the current president and a rainbow Poland [of Trzaskowski]”, said the chairman of PiS’s executive committee two weeks ago, referring to the colours of the Polish and LGBT flags.

This was followed last week by a PiS MEP, Patryk Jaki, warning that since becoming mayor Trzaskowski has turned Warsaw “from white and red to pink”. Trzaskowski is “tailored to the whole Soros-European nomenclature”, Jaki told Catholic radio station Siódma9.

Elections are “a choice between white-and-red Poland and rainbow Poland”, says ruling party official

A reporter from state broadcaster TVP, which is used to present the government’s narrative and attack opponents, asked Trzaskowski at an event last week why his children have not received Catholic first communion.

Trzaskowski pointed out that, in fact, his older daughter did take communion, although his son did not. He refused to answer the question further, saying only that he has “great respect for the Catholic church and tradition, and I would ask you not to suggest anything else”.

After being nominated as PO’s candidate, one of Trzaskowski’s first announcements was a plan to completely replace TVP with a new model of public broadcasting. The manner in which PiS has used state media for “propaganda” is “poisoning our public life”, said Trzaskowski.

At the time, he drew some criticism when, following a question from a TVP reporter,  he told them that they should they should “hurry up in asking me questions because there aren’t many weeks left [for you]”.

Main image credit:  Piotr Skornicki /Agencja Gazeta

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