Poles vote in presidential election that could define EU relations

Country's President Andrzej Duda topped the first round of voting with 43.5%, but he might not enjoy such vicotry now

Poles vote today in a knife-edge presidential election that may shape the country’s future relations with the European Union, which have been frayed by the bloc’s concerns over the rule of law. The election is a run-off after a first-round on 28 June between incumbent Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS), and liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski (Civic Platform party(PO).

Polling stations open at 0500 GMT and close at 1900 GMT, at which point the results of an exit poll will be announced.

Duda’s re-election is crucial if PiS is to deepen judicial reforms that the European Union says increase political control over the courts. The president holds the power of veto and his rival Trzaskowski has said he will block legislation that he believes would undermine democratic norms.

Given that Poland’s president holds few executive powers, it is unlikely Trzaskowski could bring about significant change if he won. But with the presidency as well as the upper house of parliament in opposition hands, PiS’s ability to implement its agenda would be hampered.

During the campaign, Duda has painted himself as a defender of Poland’s Catholic values and the generous social benefit programmes that have transformed life for many, especially in the poorer rural regions of the country, the EU’s largest post-communist member.

“I believe we can build the Poland we dream of, a fair Poland, a rich Poland, a strong Poland... a Poland that can protect the weak and doesn’t have to fear the strong,” Duda told supporters on Friday, asking them to compare their standard of living now with what it was before he took office.

However, while Duda vows to stand on the side of the weak, critics say his campaign has also drawn on homophobia and anti-Semitism.

He has compared what he calls LGBT “ideology” to Soviet-era communist indoctrination, while state TV, the mouthpiece of the government, has used the sensitive issue of Jewish property restitution to attack Trzaskowski.

“There are very energetic attempts, and at the centre of these attempts is Mr Trzaskowski, to see to it that in Poland different kinds of minorities can... terrorise the rest,” said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of PiS and Poland’s de-facto ruler.

In the meantime, Trzaskowski became a target for religious conservatives for promoting gay rights after he took part in pride marches and pledged to introduce sex education classes in Warsaw schools. Trzaskowski says he seeks a more open, tolerant Poland and has criticised PiS’s rhetoric, while vowing to abolish state news channel TVP Info.

“Have you ever heard such homophobia, such anti-Semitism, such attacks on everybody who is brave enough to say ‘we have had enough’,” he asked supporters on Friday, contrasting PiS’s use of language with that of opposition politicians.

But while vowing to block PiS’s judicial reforms and condemning attacks on minorities, Trzaskowski has stressed that he would leave PiS’s popular social benefit programmes intact and not seek to raise the retirement age.

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