Poland Plows through Socially-distanced Presidential Elections

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Posted: Jun 30, 2020 10:00 AM
Poland Plows through Socially-distanced Presidential Elections

Source: (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Poland is not finished after Sunday’s presidential elections, heading now into a second round to determine whether the incumbent conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party will continue to prevail. With 99.77% of ballots counted, incumbent president Andrzej Duda garnered 43.3% of the vote, not enough to guarantee a win. He will face Rafal Trzaskowski of the centrist Civic Platform party in two weeks’ time.

Poland is the first EU member state to hold presidential elections since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Efforts to contain the virus induced drastic changes to the Polish electoral process. The election was far from smooth: 

"Negative campaign tactics primarily by the two contenders leading in the opinion polls contributed to further polarizing and already confrontational environment," analysts report.

Elections were originally scheduled for May 10 but were postponed after party conflict over how to conduct elections during one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns. In April, Duda peaked at 57% in the polls, dropping to a low of 43% in the weeks prior to the adjusted election day as Trzaskowski’s popularity climaxed. Trzaskowski did not enter the race until May. 

Nine other candidates participated in the race. Analysts favor Trzaskowski in the runoff on July 12, according to the New York Times, while Politico polls indicate almost no margin between the two candidates.

Campaigning occurred primarily via social media platforms due to restrictions of mass gatherings over 50, with accusations of bias and disinformation levied against both sides. In an analysis of the election proceedings that exhibited overt disapproval the incumbent, Poland’s Special Election Assessment Mission claimed that TVP, the state broadcasting service, had “failed to ensure balanced and impartial coverage, and rather served as campaign tool for the incumbent.”

“Owing to the pluralistic, but sharply polarised media landscape, debate on key issues is limited to opponents simply restating their positions,” the report continued. 

Unlike in the United States, public defamation of the president is considered a crime in Poland.

A June 2 act that allowed for mail-in ballots to be used alongside in-person voting stations was also criticized by the Special Election Assessment. It found that the act “made substantial changes to the manner in which ballots are cast and elections are administered less than a month prior to the election day thereby undermining the stability and clarity of the electoral law.”

At 66%, turnout for Poland’s presidential elections exceeded the 49% reached in the 2015 elections despite obstacles incurred by the pandemic lockdown. 

Reporters noted that most people voted in person while wearing masks and maintaining at least three feet of distance between persons. Doors remained open and the sharing of pens was nor permitted, and disinfectant and Personal Protective Equipment were available at each voting station. Two regions that recorded a spike in cases were required to vote by post. 

Duda has been the only foreign leader to pay a visit to the White House since the coronavirus lockdown, ostensibly to ensure American troops remain stationed in Poland following their withdrawal from Germany.

"He's doing a terrific job,” Trump said of Duda. “The people of Poland think the world of him."

Poland has consistently had one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, the New York Times reports. Currently, it records 34,000 total cases and no new deaths on Monday. Reopening measures began in late April.