What does the re-election of President Duda mean for Poland and the EU?

by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt

Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda has been re-elected for a second term (Walker, 2020). In this article, I will investigate the effects of Duda’s electoral campaign on Polish society and the implications of his re-election for Poland and the EU.

In his electoral campaign, Duda made use of an anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric which had a polarizing effect and consolidated anti-European attitudes (Zerka & Buras, 2020). Among his voters, he reinforced the notion that “Polish values are under threat in Europe” (Zerka & Buras, 2020). The President thus instrumentalized European problems for his purposes. Voters that support his party share traditional and nationalist values. Therefore, his anti-European strategy resonated well with his electorate. However, Duda not only stirred up hatred against the EU but also against the LGBT+ community. In his electoral campaign, Duda propagated traditional family values and made use of a homophobic rhetoric (Walker, 2020). His party condemned LGBT+ rights as a “foreign import that threatened Polish identity” (Henley, 2020). The President’s rhetoric received a great deal of attention in the older and Catholic electorate (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020).  Krawkow’s Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski even warned of a “rainbow plague” (Chadwick, 2019). This shows that Duda’s anti- LGBT+ rhetoric was particularly welcomed in conservative Catholic circles. Duda’s anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric thus further polarized the country. The societal division was especially clear due to the closeness of the election results. Duda’s opponent Rafal Trzaskowski secured 48,8% of the votes (Walker, 2020). The voter turnout was even above average with 68,18% showing the importance of the election (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020).

The Polish sociologist Maciej Gdula Duda is convinced that Duda’s welfare policy was a decisive factor for his electoral success (Broder, 2020). During his first term of office, Duda promoted direct benefit payments for families, which was highly appreciated (Broder, 2020). Furthermore, the PiS party was able to win voters from the working and middle class in rural areas by “promising to focus on their problems and to bring down the arrogant elites” (Ciobanu, 2020). Duda’s success was thus also based on his social policy and his positive attitude towards families.

Apart from its social policy, the President’s party, Law and Justice (PiS), characterized itself as fighting for Christianity “against foreign forces” (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020). The national conservative party argued that “Germany and other outside powers were trying to meddle into Poland’s affairs” (Pronczuk & Santora, 2020). This fight against foreign involvement was part of Duda’s strategy to distract from real problems.

In his campaign Duda was supported by public television (Walker, 2020). His liberal opponent, Trzaskowski, was frequently criticized or attacked, also for its positive attitude towards the LGBT+ community (Walker, 2020). The elections were thus held under an „unfair media environment“ (Tharoor, 2020). Despite these conditions, the opposition was able to secure a large amount of votes (around 48%). 

Duda’s re-election has several implications not only for Poland, but also for the European Union. Duda’s political agenda of the past years already suggests what he might plan for the future (Tharoor, 2020). He might adopt measures to further politicize and hollow out the judiciary and the media. The state’s system of checks and balances is expected to be further deteriorated and it is feared that democratic institutions are further dismantled as in Hungary (Henley, 2020). The re-election might thus put the Polish rule of law, judicial independence and media independence to the test. However, it also puts the European Union to the test (Zerka & Buras, 2020). The re-election makes it harder for the EU to guarantee that Polish citizens feel supported by the EU and to ensure the rule of law in the country (Zerka & Buras, 2020). Furthermore, it remains questionable whether President Duda will be able to persuade the European Union that minority rights are respected in Poland (Zerka & Buras, 2020). For the EU, Duda’s re-election raises important questions on how to respond to the politicisation of the judiciary and to the discrimination of minorities.

In conclusion, Duda’s anti-European and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric further polarized and divided the country. The fact that Duda’s opponent was supported by 48,8% shows how deeply divided the country is. Furthermore, Duda’s re-election is expected to put the Polish rule of law and independence of Poland’s judiciary to the test. The European Union is also put to the test as it is asked to find a response to these developments.

Photo by kyryll ushakov on Unsplash

References

Broder, D. (2020, July 16). Poland’s Far Right Is Distorting the Debate on Welfare – and Winning. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://jacobinmag.com/2020/07/poland-law-justice-party-andrzej-duda-lgbt

Chadwick, L. (2019, August 03). Archbishop warns of ‘rainbow plague’ amid LGBT tensions in Poland. Retrieved July 26, 2020, from https://www.euronews.com/2019/08/02/archbishop-warns-of-rainbow-plague-amid-lgbt-tensions-in-poland

Ciobanu, C. (2020, July 22). Election Blues: Why Poland’s Opposition Keeps Losing. Retrieved July 31, 2020, from https://balkaninsight.com/2020/07/22/election-blues-why-polands-opposition-keeps-losing/

Henley, J. (2020, July 13). Andrzej Duda’s re-election set to intensify Poland-EU tensions. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/13/andrzej-dudas-re-election-set-to-intensify-poland-eu-tensions

Pronczuk, M., & Santora, M. (2020, July 13). After tight race for Polish president, Andrzej Duda wins 2nd term. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/13/world/europe/poland-president-elections-Andrzej-Duda.html

Tharoor, I. (2020, July 15). Poland’s narrow election has big consequences for its democratic future. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/07/15/poland-election-duda-trump/

Walker, S. (2020, July 13). Duda narrowly re-elected in Poland in boost for ruling nationalists. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/13/incumbent-andrzej-duda-wins-polish-presidential-election-commission

Zerka, P., & Buras, P. (2020, July 14). Poland under Duda: A divided country, dividing Europe. Retrieved July 25, 2020, from https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_poland_under_duda_a_divided_country_dividing_europe