President Andrzej Duda has described the opposition as “a virus worse than coronavirus” while on the campaign trail ahead of this Sunday’s presidential election, where he is standing for a second term.
At a rain-soaked rally in his home city of Kraków, Duda criticised the government of 2007-2015, which was a coalition of Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL), which are both now in opposition.
In 2015, Duda was elected president, replacing PO-backed Bronisław Komorowski, while the Law and Justice (PiS) party from which Duda hails won a parliamentary majority.
“Look at the pages of history,” the president told his supporters in a speech on Kraków’s medieval market square. “In 2015, when we took power from the PO-PSL coalition, unemployment was over 9%.”
But this year, even “at the worst moment of the pandemic, unemployment increased to 6%, which was lower than when they ruled”, continued Duda. “They were a worse virus, ladies and gentlemen, than the coronavirus.”
Język nienawiści, ale też kompletna głupota bagatelizowania pandemii.
— Grzegorz Kot (@gfkot) June 21, 2020
The president praised the efforts of the current government to protect employment during the crisis, claiming that “a billion zloty is being paid every day to Polish businesses in order to save jobs”, reports Polsat News.
Duda then said that Sunday’s elections offer a choice. Either there will be a “Poland with a raised retirement age, disregard for citizens, of exploitation and selling off national property, a Poland of fraud and lies” under the opposition.
Or, under his continued presidency, there “will be a Poland of justice, integrity and development, a Poland of dreams, a Poland that will defend the weak and not have to be afraid of the strong, in which honesty prevails”.
Trzaskowski’s memory loss
Elsewhere on the campaign trail, the main opposition challenger, Rafał Trzaskowski of PO, struggled to distance himself from his party’s decision in 2012 to raise the retirement age to 67 and then oppose PiS’s move to lower it again in 2016 to 60 for women and 65 for men.
During a speech in the village of Sorkwity in north-eastern Poland, Trzaskowki initially declared that he had not been a member of parliament four years ago. As he left the stage, an aide pointed out to him that, in fact, he had been an MP in 2016.
Trzaskowski then returned to the microphone to correct the error, but said that he had not voted on the retirement age. However, that claim was also incorrect: Trzaskowski twice voted against PiS’s bill to lower the retirement age.
Trzaskowski then addressed the matter a third time, saying that he had meant he did not vote on PO’s initial decision to raise the retirement age in 2012. He admitted he had voted against lowering it in 2016 but has since “listened to citizens”, which is why he has changed his mind.
President Duda said that Trzaskowski is “either lying or unbalanced, since he changes his mind overnight”. His campaign team announced that they would be sending a person dressed in a costume depicting the number “67” (to signify PO’s higher retirement age) to Trzaskowski’s campaign events.
.@AdamBielan: Aby R. #Trzaskowski już nigdy nie zapomniał, jak głosował ws. wieku emerytalnego, na każdym jego wiecu będzie gościć nasz bohater – Liczba 67 – wiek emerytalny, jaki wprowadził rząd PO-PSL. pic.twitter.com/9JAMKyd1eK
— #DUDA2020 (@AndrzejDuda2020) June 21, 2020
Trzaskowski also unveiled a new campaign pledge to create a presidential scholarship fund that would provide grants to students from smaller towns and the countryside who go to study in cities. The 50,000 recipients would each receive 1,000 zloty (€225) per month to help with buying books and paying rent.
Free fire trucks for voting
On Saturday, the interior ministry announced that it would give a free fire truck to whichever small district (of up 20,000 residents) in each of Poland’s 16 provinces had the highest voter turnout in Sunday’s election. They named the contest “Battle for the Fire Trucks”.
“We encourage local communities to be active, to show that their vote is important,” said deputy minister Maciej Wąsik. “Be active, get a fire truck for your local community.”
🚒 W każdym województwie gmina do 20 tys. mieszkańców z największa frekwencją w pierwszej turze wyborów prezydenckich otrzyma wóz strażacki. pic.twitter.com/0od105r4zU
— MSWiA (@MSWiA_GOV_PL) June 20, 2020
Critics were quick to point out that the small communities in which the ministry was seeking to increase turnout are precisely the ones in which voters are most likely to favour President Duda.
In last year’s parliamentary election, PiS received 43.6% of the total national vote. But in smaller districts it was much higher: 58.3% in districts with under 5,000 residents; 54.6% in those with 5-10,000 residents; and 47.6% in those with 10-20,000 residents.
“Let’s call this what it is: simply political corruption” tweeted Jakub Majmurek, a columnist for the left-wing magazine Krytyka Polityczna. “Fire trucks should go where they are needed for putting out fires, not to serve as a reward for votes.”
Biedroń’s same-sex marriage bill
Left-wing presidential candidate Robert Biedroń has unveiled two bills that his party, The Left (Lewica), is submitting to parliament. One would introduce the right to same-sex civil partnerships, and the other to same-sex marriage.
Biedroń noted that the first proposal has been submitted to parliament in various forms in the past, but always rejected. The second, however, is the first time a bill on same-sex marriage had been put before parliament, he said.
Marriage equality “does not harm anyone and makes people happy”, said Biedroń, who is himself in a same-sex relationship and has refused to travel abroad to get married, saying that he only wants to do so once it is legal in Poland.
Opinion polling indicates that most Poles now favour introducing civil partnerships, though a majority still do not accept the idea of same-sex marriage. Poland’s current parliament, in which the conservative PiS have a majority, would be unlikely to pass a bill on either.
Main image credit: Krzysztof Sitkowski/prezydent.pl
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.