The day of Duda: On Poland elections

President Andrzej Duda’s re-election in Sunday’s close run-off was a critical iteration for Poland’s ultra-nationalist government, which has been mired in a stand-off with the EU over the country’s slide into authoritarianism and erosion of the rule of law. The renewed mandate for Mr. Duda, a staunch ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that seeks to overhaul Polish society and institutions, comes months after it was returned for a second consecutive term. Mr. Duda, a former lawyer, polled 51.2% of the vote, against 48.7% by his rival, Rafał Trzaskowski, the Mayor of Warsaw. The latter, who was backed by the centre-right Civic Coalition, considerably narrowed the 13% lead he conceded in the first round held on June 28. But that gain could not compensate for the palpable lack of initiative behind the fragmented opposition, as reflected in a multi-cornered contest in the earlier round. Mr. Trzaskowski was catapulted into the race just days before the government decided to defer the polls originally scheduled for May 10 on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. His entry revitalised the election campaign, which had lost momentum as the ratings for the candidate of the Civic Platform, the main opposition party, had dropped to single digits. The opposition pinned its hopes on Mr. Trzaskowski to win and halt the country’s authoritarian slide. But the results dashed those hopes.

Meanwhile, the conduct of regular elections was itself no small a triumph considering that the government had passed legislation to restrict the franchise to a postal ballot following the pandemic. The impressive 65% voter turnout during both rounds of the election possibly speaks to the stark choices facing the citizens. One was to return to the open and inclusive model of society advocated by the Civic Coalition that underpinned Warsaw’s 2004 admission to the EU. The other was to continue down the road the Poles chose in 2015 — the politics of ultra-nationalism with an inward-looking emphasis on the country’s Roman Catholic identity espoused by the PiS. Mr. Duda’s first term began in 2015 in the backdrop of such a polarised atmosphere. He rejected the view that Poles should apologise to the Jews for the 1941 Jedwabne pogrom during the Nazi Holocaust, in a reference to the gesture made by the country’s President in 2001 during the 60th year commemoration of the incident. During his re-election bid, Mr. Duda made disparaging comments about Poland’s former communist rulers and LGBT rights to appeal to his conservative constituency. The government’s partisan coverage of PiS electioneering via the state-owned broadcasting houses also came under scrutiny during the campaign. These encroachments on democratic freedoms and the rule of law fall into a broader pattern of political interference with judicial appointments. Now, with Mr. Duda at the helm, Poland’s backward march from democracy is likely to continue unabated.


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Printable version | May 18, 2021 1:59:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-day-of-duda-the-hindu-editorial-on-poland-elections/article32095089.ece

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