Whilst the threat of the pandemic still hangs over Poland, the country is going to the polls at the end of the month to vote for its new President. The election is dominated by candidates from the two main right-wing parties, with the incumbent Andrzej Duda using homophobic propaganda as a central theme in his campaign.
"We are people, not ideology."
LGBT+ protest against the current Polish President Andrzej Duda
at an election rally,
Lublin, 16 June 2020.
The Polish Presidential election takes place against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic. Originally scheduled for 10 May, the government was forced to postpone these elections due to the lockdown. The first round of the elections has now been rescheduled for 28 June, with a probable second round due to take place on 12 July. For the first time it will be possible to use postal vote in a national election in Poland.
Poland has so far escaped the worst effects of the coronavirus, in comparison to some other European countries, with the official death count reaching 1,286 on at 17 June, which is about 3,4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants (Germany: 10,6, Italy: 57). The number of casualties was limited due to the coronavirus reaching the Central and Eastern European region relatively late and Poland (along with most other CEE countries) imposing an early and strict lockdown. However, the government has now essentially ended the lockdown in the country, with shops, restaurants, bars, etc. opened normally again. This is due to economic pressure from companies to be allowed to reopen their businesses and the wish of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) to fight the elections whilst claiming it has already successfully defeated the virus.
Despite such propaganda the number of infections and deaths has continued to rise. Particularly badly hit has been the industrial region of Silesia, where the virus has spread rapidly amongst miners and their families and communities. All of the candidates in the elections have essentially ignored safety precautions, with the incumbent Andrzej Duda (PiS) and his main rival Rafał Trzaskowski (Citizens’ Coalition, KO) holding large rallies with little concern for the protection of their supporters’ health.
PiS have won every election held in Poland since the 2015 parliamentary elections. Their domination of Polish politics has partly been due to them cultivating an image as a pro-social party, after introducing social policies such as new child benefits. This has been helped by the fact that its main political rival, KO, advocates a neo-liberal economic programme. PiS combines its economic programme with a strong catholic, social conservative and anti-Communist ideology.
The corona crisis has exposed the shallowness of the claims by PiS to represent the economic needs of society. They have introduced a series of economic programmes (termed financial shields), which have provided large sums of public money for businesses, whilst giving them new powers to, for example, fire workers, cut salaries and force employees to take their holiday leave when employers want them to. It is currently predicted that the economy will shrink by over 7 percent this year and that unemployment will sharply increase, with employment in April alone falling by around 150,000. It is estimated that poverty will rise by around 20 percent this year.
In these conditions Duda’s campaign team has attempted to divert attention both away from the ongoing pandemic and enveloping economic crisis. They have returned to the strategy they used in last year’s European and national parliamentary elections of attacking LGBT+ rights as a means to mobilise their core supporters. Recently Duda has said that “LGBT is not people, it's an ideology”, and compared it to “neo-Bolshevism”. Furthermore prominent MPs have intensified this dehumanising message, with one MP (Przemysław Czarnek) saying on national television that LGBT+ people are “not equal to ordinary people” and that they we will finally end this discussion about human rights. Although these messages may play well with loyal PiS supporters, it is possible that they will isolate other sections of the electorate.
Trzaskowski is presented by PiS as being a liberal who advocates LGBT+ rights. Whilst he is undoubtedly more progressive on such issues, he is hardly a left-wing liberal on such matters and does not support policies like legally recognising same-sex relationships. Trzaskowski is presenting himself as a moderate, pro-European alternative to Duda and is trying to win the support of voters in the centre of the political scene.
The left candidate, Robert Biedroń, has failed to increase his support during this campaign and he currently stands at under 5 percent in the opinion polls. This is partly due to his previous lackluster campaign and failure to challenge PiS on economic and social issues. Nevertheless his campaign has significantly improved in recent weeks (under the guidance of MP Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk), although it is doubtful that this will be enough to see support for Biedroń rise markedly. Amongst the over candidates in this election is the far-right candidate Krzysztof Bosak from the Confederation party. Bosak is an openly far-right politician, who combines social chauvinism, racism and nationalism with extreme neo-liberalism. Bosak currently stands at around 7 percent in the opinion polls. One of his election staff announced on radio that he thought that Bosak supporters should vote for Trzaskowski in a second round vote, which was positively received by some liberal commentators and KO politicians. The increased right-wing rhetoric used by Duda in the campaign is partly an attempt to win the votes of Bosak supporters in a second round.
It is likely that Andrzej Duda will win the largest share of votes in the first round of voting. It is then probable that he will face Trzaskowski in a second round, with current opinion polls showing that this would be a tight race. Both candidates are from the right and whoever wins will maintain the right-wing hegemony that has existed in Poland since the early 2000s. However, if Duda loses these elections the power of PiS will be reduced and there will be some counterweight, through possible Presidential vetos, to the most reactionary policies of the ruling government. The task of the left remains to create a political force that can break this right wing political dominance in Poland.