Polish elections show a divided country

On 12 July 2020, Poles voted in the second round of presidential elections which saw incumbent President Andrzej Duda (connected to the ruling Law and Justice party) defend against Warsaw Mayor RafaƂ Trzaskowski (connected to the Civic Platform which was in power 2008-2015). The official results allowed for President Duda to declare victory, winning 51.2% of the vote against Trzaskowski’s 48.8%, with the turnout being 68%.

Both campaigns, which at times can be described as brutal, and the extremely close results illustrate just how polarized Poland’s society has become. Difference in choice for candidate emerged on many fronts: geographical (Trzaskowski won mostly in western Poland, while Duda won mostly in the east); generational (Trzaskowski won among younger voters, 18-50; while Duda won among older voters 50+); as well as a wide urban-rural divide (with Duda winning among more rural voters and Trzaskowski among the urban areas and larger cities). 

Duda’s reelection is the first time since 2000 that a Polish president has won a second term. His second term will provide the ruling Law and Justice party some security as they pursue controversial reforms, which might include the continuation of the justice system reforms or a further take over in the media sphere. However, the divided society will certainly act as a check on major changes and could play a role on slowing the speed of some social reforms. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: Polish politics have now entered a new phase. The ruling party has the ability to drive the political agenda without much resistance. Meanwhile the opposition needs to find new ways to reach out to a broader electorate and build serious policy alternatives to many popular programs of the ruling party. This election signals that the opportunities are there to do so, yet Poland remains harmfully divided. 

Time will tell if Duda will deliver on his victory promise to bring the country together after such a divisive last few weeks. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be optimistic in this regard, especially considering the level of emotions that were generated over the last weeks (not to mention a pandemic that has not fully disappeared).