WARSAW, Poland (AP) — An exit poll shows the conservative Polish president, Andrzej Duda, with the most votes in Poland’s presidential election on Sunday, but short of the 50% required for an outright win in the first round.
If the poll is confirmed by official results, Duda will face centrist Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski in a runoff on July 12.
According to the projection by the Ipsos polling firm, Duda won 41.8% and Trzaskowski 30.4% in Sunday’s vote. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Poland’s state electoral commission has said it would release the final official results by Wednesday evening.
Whether Duda ultimately wins a second five-year term in two weeks’ time will determine whether the ruling nationalist party that backs him, Law and Justice, keeps its near-monopoly on political power in Poland.
The party has been in conflict with the European Union over laws that have given it control over top courts and key judicial bodies, something the 27-nation bloc has denounced as an erosion of democratic European values.
Opinion surveys conducted last week indicated that Duda could have a more difficult time in a runoff given that many opposition voters would be expected to unite against him.
The candidate with the third most votes according to the exit poll was Szymon Holownia, a TV personality and journalist who had once studied to be a priest. He was projected by the Ipsos poll to have 13.3%. Holownia is unaffiliated with any party and generated enthusiasm among some Poles tired of years of bickering between Law and Justice and Civic Platform, the country’s two main parties.
Most of his supporters have said in surveys they would back Trzaskowski in a runoff.
A far-right candidate, Krzysztof Bosak, was projected by the exit poll to win 7.4% of the vote, and his voters would also be up for grabs in the runoff.
The vote had been scheduled for May 10 but was postponed in a chaotic political and legal battle as the ruling party pressed to hold it despite the pandemic.
In April, Duda had very high support and was expected then to win in a single round. He was helped by adulatory coverage in state media and the inability of other candidates to campaign.
But as restrictions eased, Trzaskowski replace an earlier candidate fielded by his Civic Platform party who had dismal poll numbers, adding a new dynamic and some suspense into the race.
Poland hasn't been as badly hit by the pandemic as many countries in Western Europe, and most people voted in person, wearing masks and observing other hygiene rules. There was also a mail-in voting option, and thousands of voters in some southwestern regions with higher virus infection numbers were required to vote by mail.
As of Sunday, Poland had nearly 34,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its 38 million people, with over 1,400 deaths.
Duda's campaign focused on defending traditional values in the mostly Catholic nation while promising to keep raising living standards to Western European levels. He took a position against same-sex marriage and adoption and denounced the LGBT rights movement as a dangerous “ideology.”
That kind of rhetoric — along with the laws that have given the Law and Justice party much greater control over the justice system and the party's harnessing of public media to promote the government's image — have raised concerns among some that Poland is following Hungary in eroding democratic norms established after communism collapsed three decades ago.
On the campaign trail, Trzaskowski promised to keep the ruling party's popular social welfare spending programs while vowing to restore constitutional norms.
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