Poland faces momentous choice in tight presidential runoff

A man pushes a pram past campaign posters of Warsaw Mayor and candidate in Poland's presidential election, Rafal Trzaskowski (L) and of President Andrzej Duda (R) on July 9, 2020 in Raciaz, Poland, ahead of the July 12, 2020 presidential election. (AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2020

Poland faces momentous choice in tight presidential runoff

  • If Duda wins, he and the right-wing Law and Justice party that backs him will maintain a hold on almost all key instruments of power in the country
  • A victory for Trzaskowski, who belongs to the main opposition party, Civic Platform, would give him veto power over the laws passed by the ruling party

WARSAW, Poland: Voters in Poland on Sunday will decide a tight runoff election between populist incumbent President Andrzej Duda and his liberal pro-European Union challenger, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.
Recent opinion polls show a race so close that it could hinge on a narrow margin of voters, which added urgency to the final days of campaigning in the central European Union nation of 38 million people.
If Duda wins, he and the right-wing Law and Justice party that backs him will maintain a hold on almost all key instruments of power in the country, possibly until the next parliamentary elections scheduled for 2023.
The party’s welfare policies have helped reduce income inequality, creating reservoirs of trust and admiration, especially in rural areas where the party’s attachment to Roman Catholic traditions also go far.
But Law and Justice has exacerbated divisions in society with rhetoric marginalizing liberal elites, the LGBT community and other minority groups. It has also drawn criticism from some EU leaders, primarily because of laws giving the party new powers over Poland’s justice system.
A victory for Trzaskowski, who belongs to the main opposition party, Civic Platform, would give him veto power over the laws passed by the ruling party.
Since the Polish president represents the county abroad, Trzaskowski would bring in a more pro-European and conciliatory side of Poland to European forums.
“If Trzaskowski wins, it will be a clear sign that the society has had enough and wants a kind of politics where compromise is a value,” said Wojciech Przybylski, editor in chief of Visegrad Insight, a policy journal focused on Central Europe.
As he seeks a second five-year term, Duda got a campaign boost from his patron, the powerful ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and from Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Duda traveled across Poland meeting people, visiting open-air markets and vowing to protect the government’s signature spending policies. He was especially well received in farming regions and small towns, where government-paid bonuses have helped alleviate poverty and have given families with children more money to spend.
“This election will decide Poland’s development in the future, whether it will continue on the path to development,” Duda said at a rally in Starachowice, an industrial town of 50,000 in central Poland.
Duda suggests Trzaskowski would cut the popular welfare spending programs — but Trzaskowski has vowed to preserve them, acknowledging the “mistake” his pro-business party made in not introducing such help when it held power before.
Ryszard Sadowski, a 72-year-old who turned out to cheer Duda, praised him as a “reliable” man who kept his promises to help improve the lives of regular people. The retired biology and gym teacher said he benefited from a new yearly cash bonus for senior citizens called a “13th” monthly pension, and others in his family have received payments for children.
“From the moment when the money started coming to the families, suddenly everyone is happy,” Sadowski said.
Duda and Trzaskowski, both 48, eliminated nine other candidates in the first round on June 28. Duda got 43.5 percent of votes in that election, and Trzaskowski got 30.5 percent  but is expected to pick up many of the votes that went to the others. There are nearly 30 million eligible voters.
A former European Parliament lawmaker, Trzaskowski has vowed to heal the social divide in the country and respect democratic rules.
“The stakes in this election are extremely high,” he told reporters Thursday.
Law and Justice will either “continue to destroy independent institutions, further try to politicize courts, destroy local governments and threaten the freedom of the media, or we will have a democratic state where the president restores the balance,” he said.
“It’s now or never,” he added.
Trzaskowski’s support is strongest in larger cities and among more highly educated people, according to exit polls from the first round.
At a Trzaskowski rally in Gniezno on Tuesday, Wlodzimierz Mokracki, a 74-year-old who still teaches at technical schools, believes Poland’s 30-year-old democracy is on the line.
If Trzaskowski wins, Mokracki said, “we will go back to a democratic state. I will not be afraid to say what I think, because today they are taking the first small steps toward intimidating us.”
The election was originally scheduled for May, but was put off amid political wrangling over concerns for public health during the coronavirus pandemic. To date there are some 37,000 infections and almost 1,600 deaths in Poland.
Sunday’s vote, just like the first round, will be held under a strict sanitary conditions.
Voters must wear masks and gloves, maintain a safe distance and use hand sanitizer. They can use their own pens to mark ballots. Election officials must wear masks and sit apart from each other, and ballot boxes will be regularly disinfected in the well-ventilated polling stations.
Morawiecki, the prime minister, said the virus is “retreating” and urged everyone to “go in a throng and vote,” which was seen as encouragement to Duda’s traditional base of older supporters, some of whom did not vote in June’s first round out of health concerns.
“The political situation is tense, the outcome may be a very close call, and that has pushed the coronavirus theme into the background,” Jaroslaw Flis, a political scientist with the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, was quoted as saying by the Gazeta Prawna newspaper.
Concerns were raised after the first round that voting was not possible in some places abroad, where it is done only by mail, because many ballots reached voters too late.
Trzaskowski won 48.13 perccent of votes cast abroad, while Duda got 20.86 percent, according to official results.
It remained to be seen if the procedures, carried out by Poland’s government-controlled diplomatic missions abroad, will improve for the runoff.


Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.