After a bitterly fought election that divided Poland almost exactly in half, reaction from the government has, unsurprisingly, been mixed.
Meanwhile, international leaders have sent their congratulations to President Andrzej Duda after he secured a further five years at the helm, defeating his challenger, Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, by a margin of 51% to 49%.
On election night on Sunday, with initial exit polls showing a difference of just 0.8 percentage points – well within the 2% margin of error – both candidates claimed victory. Andrzej Duda said that “to win presidential elections with an almost 70% turnout is incredible news”. Meanwhile, speaking at his rally in central Warsaw, Trzaskowski predicted, “with every passing hour, our result will improve” telling his supporters “I am absolutely sure we will win!”
Duda was joined on stage in Pułtusk by his daughter Kinga, who gave a surprising speech seemingly at odds with the tones of the president’s campaign. “Regardless of what we believe in, what colour skin we have, our views, which candidate we support or who we love, we are all equal and deserve respect. No one deserves to be an object of hate,” she said.
Duda also attempted to strike a conciliatory tone, adding soon afterwards “if anyone has felt offended by my actions or my words not only during the campaign, but in the last five years, please accept my apologies,” reports 300 Polityka.
Reactions from the government and opposition
On Monday, as Duda’s victory became clear, both government and opposition politicians offered their interpretations of the electoral outcome as well as their thoughts on where Poland goes from here.
“The playing field was skewed,” said Grzegorz Schetyna, a former leader of Civic Platform (PO), the main opposition party, which put Trzaskowski forward as its candidate. Referring to the concerted campaign by the TVP public television news to attack Trzaskowski while promoting the virtues of the incumbent president, Schetyna said that it “definitely had a bearing on voter mobilisation and the final result”.
Trzaskowski himself congratulated his rival, expressing his hope that the president’s second term would be different from the first. He also thanked his supporters for the “almost 10 million votes” in his favour (the final result was just over 10 million, 422,000 behind Duda).
Prawie 10 mln głosów. Za wszystkie i za każdy z osobna serdecznie dziękuję. Dziękuję też za niesamowitą energię, jaką wspólnie udało nam się wyzwolić przez tych kilka tygodni. Jeszcze będzie przepięknie!
— Rafał Trzaskowski (@trzaskowski_) July 13, 2020
The spokesman of PO, Jan Grabiec, said that the opposition will be lodging electoral protests and asking for the foreign minister to step down after it was reported that many ballots were not delivered on time for the postal vote abroad, calling “the government’s involvement” a “scandal”.
“Everyone voted democratically, but half [of Poles] made a mistake,” said Ryszard Terlecki, leader of PiS’s parliamentary caucus. Asked about the party’s plans to “polonise” the media, he replied that “all that’s necessary will come”, reports DoRzeczy.
On Sunday, Poland’s justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro also stressed that it was now time to concentrate on eliminating the “imbalance” in the country’s media landscape.
The following day, Ziobro followed up with calls to push ahead with “reforms” of “state institutions”, adding that a priority will be “completing the reform of the judiciary”, which has set Warsaw at loggerheads with Brussels. He added that he was counting on Duda’s continued support.
Beata Szydło, a PiS MEP and former prime minister, said that the “brutalisation” of political life “has been pushed to the boundaries and it needs to stop,” reports Radio Maryja, adding that the result was a “personal success” for Duda.
Meanwhile, Krzysztof Bosak, the far-right presidential candidate who came fourth in the first round of the vote, was unsurprised by the closeness of the result, reports WP. Referring to the fact that Duda and Trzaskowski share an age as well as “political lineage”, he said that “both candidates are identical”.
Bosak noted that the results also showed that the 7% of voters who had backed him in the first round had split down the middle in supporting Duda and Trzaskowski. “This shows that Confederation [Konfederacja – his party] is a truly independent force, which does not fit into any of the larger political camps,” he said.
US president Donald Trump, who heartily endorsed Duda during his White House visit just days before the first round of voting in June, sent congratulations to “my friend President Andrzej Duda” on Twitter, adding that he was “looking forward to continuing important work” on defence, trade, energy and telecommunications.
Congratulations to my friend President @AndrzejDuda of Poland on his historic re-election! Looking forward to continuing our important work together across many issues, including defense, trade, energy, and telecommunications security!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 13, 2020
Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, also congratulated the re-elected president, mentioning the “long, shared history and friendship” between Poland and the United Kingdom.
Congratulations to @AndrzejDuda on your re-election as President of Poland. The UK and Poland have a long, shared history and friendship in Europe, NATO and elsewhere. I look forward to that continuing as we face the challenges and opportunities ahead.
— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) July 13, 2020
Closer to home, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban shared a photo with Andrzej Duda captioned “bravo”, while Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky wished Duda “further successes and prosperity” and invited him for a state visit. The presidents of the Czech Republic and Lithuania also sent their congratulations.
Meanwhile, the OSCE has released a special report on the elections, underlining “intolerant rhetoric of xenophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic nature, particularly by the incumbent’s campaign and the public broadcaster [TVP]”.
OSCE report on Poland's election: "The incumbent’s campaign and coverage by the public broadcaster were marked by homophobic, xenophobic and antisemitic rhetoric…Democracies are based on respect for diversity and the rights of all, not just the majority" https://t.co/wC15kbdkqt
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 13, 2020
Main image credit: Jakub Orzechowski/Agencja Gazeta
Maria Wilczek is deputy editor of Notes from Poland. She also contributes regularly to The Economist and Al Jazeera, and has also written for The Times, Politico Europe, The Spectator and Gazeta Wyborcza.