Warsaw, Poland – On Sunday, voters across Poland will cast ballots in a hotly contested presidential election that could shake up the country’s political order.
Since 2015, Poland has been governed by the socially conservative and economically statist Law and Justice (PiS) party, with a presidential ally in tandem.
The incumbent President Andrzej Duda, who ends a term speckled with controversy, will face the toughest fight of his political career this weekend, as the liberal opposition tries to weaken PiS’s grip on the country.
Here are some things to know.
Duda, 48, appeared to be comfortably ahead of his rivals in the first months of the coronavirus pandemic as he spearheaded the national response to the health emergency. But his convincing poll lead has since narrowed as the country emerged from its lockdown and campaigning resumed.
Opinion polls currently have Duda leading with 43 percent of the vote. This, however, will not suffice for an outright win. If no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round, the two frontrunners will meet for a likely runoff on July 12.
Duda’s most spirited challenger is Rafał Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of the capital, Warsaw. He is polling at 29 percent and is most likely to meet Duda for the rematch in two weeks, where some recent runoff polls have him winning.
While Duda’s strength comes from his association with the popular social spending pledges carried out by the PiS government, he has also been criticised as rubber-stamping a number of its more controversial bills, which have sparked mass protests and attracted criticism from the European Union.
To win, Duda will have to mobilise his support base of small-town provincial Poland, which since the onset of his presidency he has been cultivating by becoming the first ever presidentto visit all 380 counties in Poland.
Much, however, will depend on how many turn out for him. In a recent turnout drive, Poland’s interior ministry promised small communes with each province’s highest voter turnout brand new firefighter trucks.
Why did Duda visit Trump four days before polls?
On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump welcomed Duda as the first foreign dignitary to walk into the White House since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The overhyped meeting, which according to commentators was meant to underscore Poland’s close ties with the US, turned out a bit of a damp squib. Talks on increasing the US’s military presence in Poland and imparting US technology to build the European country’s first nuclear energy plant did not produce any concrete commitments.
“I do believe he has an election coming up, and I do believe he will be successful,” Trump said, perhaps as a bitter sweetener, as he spoke in the Rose Garden after the inconclusive bilateral talks.
“This is a desperate search for opportunities to show initiative,” commented Jarosław Flis, a professor of sociology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. However, he called the strategy “questionable” as an alternative to gathering support on the ground just four days before the election.