On May 10, 2020, the coronavirus pandemic claimed another victim: Poland’s presidential election. It was cancelled following much acrimonious debate.
More precisely, it was postponed at least until July of this year.
The cancellation of the election is seemingly a clear win for the opposition, which vociferously demanded a postponement as it is running seriously behind in the polls.
On the other hand, it signals a willingness to compromise by the populist and Christian nationalist government led by the Law and Justice (PiS) coalition, despite its candidate, incumbent President Andrzej Duda, polling as a shoo in winner with over 50% of the projected vote.
Lacking a clear legal frame of reference, Law and Justice fumbled in the process of handling the postponement of the vote. Initially, it stonewalled since its candidate commands the majority of the vote in the polls.
Then, it obfuscated about the solutions.
Further, it considered changing the constitution to allow the sitting president to continue for two more years. Next, it decided against voting by mail and electronic ballot casting because the polling would not be secure. Finally, the PiS relented.
The vote would be postponed. The solution came as a result of neither a legal Polish Supreme Court ruling nor a bureaucratic decision by the Electoral Commission.
Instead, it remained a strictly legislative affair.
It emerged from a parliamentary deal worked out between the PiS supremo Jarosław Kaczyński and the head of its liberal faction Jarosław Gowin, who threatened to quit the coalition if the vote were not postponed.
The government, which enjoys a clear majority in the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish parliament) carried the motion through.
So a postponement it is.
Yet, none can seriously challenge President Duda, unless they unite and field a single candidate, which is unlikely at this point.
The erstwhile chief presidential challenger, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska of the Civic Platform/Civic Coalition, all but collapsed in the polls and a few days ago withdrew from the race altogether in favor of a new entrant, Warsaw’s liberal mayor, Rafał Trzaskowski.
His novelty has propelled him to about 15% in the polls currently.
Hard on his heels, Szymon Hołownia, a liberal Catholic independent pro-choice candidate, boasts a similar level of support.
Others in the running are colorful but inviable. In the descending order, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz of the post-Communist Polish Peasant Party used to lead the pack but suffered a serious setback after Trzaskowski’s entry into the fray.
The joint Social Democratic/LGBT candidate Robert Robert Biedroń virtually flatlined because his potential old-line Communist supporters abhor lifestyle socialism.
Last but not least, the libertarian/conservative/monarchist/Christian nationalist Confederation’s candidate, the whippersnapper Krzysztof Bosak, hovers officially a bit over 5% but independent polls boost him occasionally to the second place.
The youngest contender at 37, Bosak runs a shoe-string campaign staffed with teenage and 20-something volunteers, who nonetheless appear to outperform the liberal and leftist professionals awash with cash. This candidate will certainly chip some votes away from the Law and Justice’s anointed contender, and, hence, merits watching.
Incumbent President Andrzej Duda, aside from a winning smile and calm countenance, is a moderate’s moderate. He habitually plays it nice (sort of like former U.S. President George H.W. Bush), and tends to make very few enemies. But he is capable of putting his foot down, for better or worse, for the sake of moderation, like the firing the CEO of Poland’s public TV this last March.
Coronavirus or not, the election will be held soon and Duda looks like a sure winner so far. But life is full of zasadzkas (traps), as they say in Poland.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe’s Three Seas region; author, among others, of “Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas.” Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz’s Reports – More Here.
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