Poland’s tightly fought and intensely polarising presidential election has gone down to the wire, with a late exit poll on Sunday night showing the incumbent narrowly leading his liberal challenger.
The figures, released around 2am in Warsaw and based on exit poll data combined with official results for 90 per cent of the polling stations, show Andrzej Duda (51 per cent) ahead of Rafal Trzaskowski (49 per cent). The Ipsos poll’s margin of error is 1 per cent.
Both candidates gave speeches on Sunday evening suggesting they were confident of victory.
“All the votes just need to be counted which, in truth, will make this evening a nerve-wracking one for everyone in Poland,” said Mr Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw, to supporters.
“But I am absolutely convinced that when we count each vote, we will be victorious and we will definitely win.”
The result is seen as crucial for the future direction of Poland and its relations with the rest of Europe. Mr Duda is allied to the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), and a win for him would give PiS control of most levers of power for several more years, allowing it to continue an agenda that has eroded the rule of law and judicial independence.
If Mr Trzaskowski wins, he will be able to use the presidential veto to stymie the PiS legislative agenda, and will portray a more liberal and pro-EU face for Poland to the outside world.
Analysts said that if the final result is as close as expected, there could lengthy and acrimonious challenges.
“This situation favours Andrzej Duda: not just because he’s slightly in the lead, but also because most of the country’s institutions have, over the past five years, become highly politicised and subordinated to the ruling party. This includes the supreme court, which is the one that will announce the final result of the election,” said Piotr Buras and Pawel Zerka, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, in a statement.
Mr Duda and Mr Trzaskowski, both 48, emerged from a first-round field of 11 candidates, all of them male. Mr Duda won 43.5 per cent of the first vote while Mr Trzaskowski got 30.5 per cent, but most polls suggested the runoff would be very close.
Turnout was nearly 69 per cent as polls closed, and was possibly heading for a record figure. It was up more from the first round in smaller towns, which have traditionally favoured Mr Duda, but there were also more than half a million voters who had registered to vote abroad, a record number. Mr Trzaskowski won more than twice as many votes from abroad as Mr Duda in the first round a fortnight ago.
Mr Trzaskowski has claimed this is the last chance to reverse the democratic backsliding that has taken place during the last five years of PiS government.
“It’s now or never,” he said last week.
Either the ruling party would “continue to destroy independent institutions, further try to politicise courts, destroy local governments and threaten the freedom of the media, or we will have a democratic state where the president restores the balance,” he said.
Mr Duda has portrayed himself as a president who has improved the country’s economy over the past five years, but he has also pledged to defend “family values” at the expense of LGBT rights. His campaign has been laced with homophobic rhetoric, as he turned the fight against so-called “LGBT ideology” into one of his main talking points.
The election was meant to take place in May, when Mr Duda was riding high in the polls and was expected to win easily. However, with coronavirus restrictions in place, plans for a full postal vote were abandoned a few days before the election. Voters on Sunday were required to wear masks and gloves and maintain social distancing. - Guardian