Poland: Duda and the PiS facing a real challenge?

The national-conservative incumbent Andrzej Duda won the first round of the presidential election in Poland on Sunday. However, with just under 42 percent of the vote he fell short of an absolute majority. Now he must face liberal rival Rafał Trzaskowski in a runoff vote on July 12. Commentators examine potential outcomes.

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Sme (SK) /

Visegrád at a crossroads

The run-off vote in Poland is also about the future of the V4 states, Sme points out:

“Poland has the strongest vote within the Visegrád group. ... The restrictions on the media in Warsaw, the attempt to take over supervisory institutions - in other words those things the EU accuses Poland of - also tarnish the image of Poland's partners. The next two weeks until the runoff election will also be decide whether Eastern and Central Europe remains a region in which Slovakia continues to look like an oasis of liberal democracy, or whether the Visegrád states all move towards European values.”

Népszava (HU) /

Unthinkable in Hungary

The systems in Poland and Hungary are not equally illiberal, Népszava explains:

“It's not that the PiS's style is substantially better than Fidesz's. In Poland, however, Jarosław Gowin, the chairman of a small party belonging to the coalition government, insisted that the election scheduled for early May be postponed due to the pandemic. If the PiS refused, he said, he would topple the government. ... Gowin stood up to the PiS president and even ran the risk of the president ending his political career in a fit of vengeful anger. Would a member of [the junior governing party] KDNP in Hungary be brave enough to stand up to Viktor Orbán because he believes his principles are more important than inner-party discipline?”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Duda dons a new mask

The president will hit the campaign trail in search of votes, Rzeczpospolita notes:

“Duda is still the favorite in this election. ... He slightly improved on the PiS's result in last year's general election. Now he's trying to win new voters. And that's not easy, because for years he focused on insulting everyone outside the PiS. ... Now President Duda has donned a new mask and is trying to woo the voters of the far-right Konfederacja, even though Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accuses the latter of having 'ties with Russia' and lacking patriotism.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Even in the crisis stability is not everything

Voters took the election very seriously indeed, Corriere della Sera comments:

“By nine p.m. almost 63 percent of those entitled to vote had cast their ballots. That is the highest turnout in 30 years of democracy. ... The pandemic has shaken the Polish economy, which is in recession for the first time since 1991. ... Sovereigntist Duda appears to his voters as the guarantor of stability in stormy waters and as an advocate of family and traditional values. However, the internal and external alarm signals (particularly from the European Commission) about the authoritarian tendencies of the Mateusz Morawiecki government, reforms that weaken the independence of the judiciary and hostility towards gay couples and women's rights have convinced a large number of Poles to back Trzaskowski.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Anti-EU politics doesn't pay off in the long term

The Frankfurter Rundschau tries to explain the reasons for Duda's relatively weak performance:

“The turning point coincided with the coronavirus outbreak. But the real problem was [PiS leader] Kaczyński. He wanted to press ahead with his plans for authoritarian state restructuring. This did not go down well in the pandemic. There are many indications that Kaczyński may have passed the zenith of his power. The economic crisis is forcing the PiS to make unpopular cutbacks. And also in the area of European politics the party will have to act against its own convictions. Because from a structural point of view the PiS is an anti-EU party. But in almost every respect Poland is dependent on the success of the bloc. Moreover, the EU is popular in the country. Politicians like Trzaskowski stand for an open-minded policies. In the long run they have the better cards.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Illiberalism on the defensive

The preliminary result is a strong signal that democracy is alive and kicking in Central and Eastern Europe, the Financial Times comments:

“Success for Rafal Trzaskowski ... would enable the opposition to put the brakes on much of the PiS project, perhaps even forcing parliamentary elections ahead of the next scheduled vote in 2023. Under Poland's constitution, the president lacks the broad executive powers of his US or French counterparts but can veto government bills. ... An opposition victory on July 12 would be the latest sign that political illiberalism, rightwing nationalism and resistance to EU values, have been losing ground in parts of central and eastern Europe over the past four years.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Budapest in Warsaw

Gazeta Wyborcza compares Poland to Hungary:

“In Poland there are now three stable electoral blocs: a very strong and United Right alliance, a slowly growing far right represented by the Confederation Liberty and Independence party, which now has no problems overcoming the five percent hurdle, and the unstable democratic camp with almost half of all voters. This constellation is partly the realization of PiS chief Jarosław Kaczyński's dream and a political plan developed by Viktor Orbán in Hungary. The United Right / Fidesz occupies the centre of the political scene and 'defends the citizens' against the radicalism of the far right and of the left.”