A shorter version of this article was published by Newsmax.
The Polish presidential election was supposed to be a squeaker. But it turned into a respectable 3% lead for the winner, President Andrzej Duda, who is allied with the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS). In the first round three weeks ago, incumbent Duda won but failed to secure over 50% of the votes which would have guaranteed victory without a runoff election. The challenger, liberal Rafał Trzaskowski, was the runner up. His campaign picked up speed; he gained steadily in the polls; some of them even indicated his electoral victory by 3%.
Most observers predicted a cliffhanger. But polls in post-Communist countries should be as trusted as surveys in the anti-Trumpism zone. They need to be taken carefully, sometimes even with a chunk of salt: more wishful thinking and leftist bias, than dispassionate number crunching, or propaganda by bogus statistics.
It initially looked like a squeaker on Sunday, July 12, when the Poles headed for the booths for the second time. Most returns from large towns suggested a very close-run thing. But by that evening, the results emerged from medium- and small-sized towns, as well as the countryside at large. The gap between the incumbent and the challenger widened progressively. It now stands at 51.21% vs. 48.79%. 10,413,094 Polish voters went for Duda, which is the highest number ever in Polish presidential elections. Trzaskowski scored 9,921,219. Over 20 million Poles went to the polls, out of a bit more than 30 million who enjoy active electoral rights.
There are many reasons why the elections were so close. First, there was an unprecedented voter mobilization. 68.12% of citizens each casted a ballot, which makes it a record turnout in Poland since democracy returned after 1989. As a result of the mobilization, pro-American Andrzej Duda secured some 2 million votes more than in the elections of 2015 which originally elevated him to the Presidency.
Second, the Polish electorate is polarized almost as severely as we are in the United States. To simplify, these deplorables who cling to their Bibles and their guns, and who descend from the anti-Nazi and anti-Communist freedom fighters, tended to vote for Duda. The post-modern “post-Poles,” who see nothing but racism and evil in their nation’s past tended to vote for Trzaskowski. And so do their post-Communist grandparents and parents. Some of them had served as secret policemen and their snitches before 1989, and they now often constitute Poland’s upper-middle-class, as Professor Ewa M. Thompson of Rice University has so astutely observed.
Third, liberal and left-wing opposition was able to agree on one candidate: Trzaskowski. Virtually all of them backed him. Duda, meanwhile, had to reckon with a snub from an important player on the right: the nationalist, libertarian, conservative, and monarchist coalition called the Konfederacja party. Its presidential candidate, Krzysztof Bosak, scored a decent 6.79% votes (out of eleven candidates) in the first round. However, in their purism, Bosak and his confederates refused to endorse either of the candidates. Instead, they dismissed them both as equally “evil” leftists. Consequently, the Konfederacja voters split nearly evenly: 52.3% supported Duda, while 47.7% went for Trzaskowski. This accounts for the fact that the incumbent’s lead registered at 3% and not over 5% at least. The inability to compromise their principles and to show the necessary flexibility will continue to guarantee that the leaders of the Konfederacja will remain on the fringes of the system.
Fourth, the reason why Duda’s victory is not overwhelming is the voter mood swing. As late as April, all polls indicated that the incumbent Polish President scored comfortably over 50% and thus would secure a second term in round one, which was to be held in early May. Then the coronavirus hit. And it bit. The electorate became restless with the quarantine. Some turned on the ruling party, criticizing its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The opposition and its allied liberal media had a field day badmouthing each and every move the government and the President made.
Instead of sticking to the schedule, Duda, in his characteristic moderate confusion, started vacillating. Perhaps the elections should be postponed or maybe they should be held, he Hamletized. The opposition howled that the President and the government party wanted to cause massive infection of citizens, nay, virtually mass kill them, by holding the election as planned. The PiS self-paralyzed and let the expected May victory slip through its fingers.
The left-liberal orientation regrouped. On the one hand, controlling the Senate, they buried the decision to hold the vote in May in a committee. On the other hand, they ditched their original and grossly uninspiring pick for Presidency and found a seemingly viable candidate, Rafał Trzaskowski, Warsaw’s mayor. As the polls showed him inching toward victory, miraculously the electoral booths turned out to be no longer Law and Justice death traps. They were now righteous democratic vehicles to put the liberals back into power. The election was on.
And a liberal victory appeared plausible for a moment. The vacuous showman Trzaskowski is the closest the Polish liberals have to France’s likewise photogenic but insipid Emmanuel Macron. Never mind that Trzaskowski’s performance as a mayor has been lackluster. This “environmentally-conscious” politician has shown astonishing incompetency, for example flooding twice in a year with sewage the capital city and the Vistula’s downstream. There have been other failures. But the mayor photographs well and is a darling of the European Union and the liberal media and all their pet causes. That’s all that matters. Or so they thought.
Now, the people have spoken. Duda has won. Trzaskowski has churlishly refused Duda’s invitation for a reconciliatory meeting, and the sore loser has also failed to concede as of this writing, dropping dark hints about electoral irregularities. Disregard that. We have five more years of moderation at the helm in Poland.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, DC, 14 July 2020