WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poland began voting in a presidential election Sunday originally scheduled for May, but was delayed by the corona virus pandemic.
President Andrzej Duda, a 48-year-old conservatively backed by the ruling party, faces 10 other candidates while looking for a 5-year second term.
The most recent polls showed that a single candidate was unlikely to reach the 50% needed to avoid runoff. In that case, the two top voters will face each other on July 12.
Polling stations remain open until 9:00 PM (1900 GMT) and exit polls are announced immediately afterwards. The final results are expected on Wednesday at the latest.
Poland has not been as badly hit by the pandemic as many other countries in Western Europe, and most people voted personally, although they had to wear masks and observe other hygiene regulations. There was also an option to vote by mail, while thousands in some southwestern regions with higher contamination rates also had to vote by mail.
As of Sunday, there were about 34,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the nation of 38 million people, with about 1,400 deaths.
The elections take place amid deep cultural and political divisions.
Backed by the ruling Justice and Justice Party, Duda has campaigned to defend traditional values in the predominantly Catholic country, pledging to raise living standards on par with those in the West. He took a stand against same-sex marriage and adoption and denounced the LGBT rights movement as a dangerous “ideology.”
That kind of rhetoric – along with laws that have given the nationalist and conservative Law and Justice party much more control over the legal system and the use of public media as a tool to promote the image of the government – have raised some of the concerns Poland is following Hungary has eroded democratic foundations.
Duda’s biggest challenge comes from 48-year-old Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who is backed by the centrist Civic Platform party.
On the campaign track, Trzaskowski has pledged to keep the popular spending programs of Law and Justice while vowing to restore constitutional standards.
Trzaskowski entered the race late after an election originally scheduled for May 10 was scrapped due to the pandemic. Duda’s once-strong support, backed by adulterous publicity, began to slip as restrictions were lifted and other candidates campaigned.
Poll prior to Sunday’s vote suggested that Duda was the leader on Sunday, but may not have reached the 50% it took to win. Polls also showed he would have a harder time in a runoff, as many opposition votes were expected to consolidate against Duda.
The other candidates include Szymon Holownia, a TV personality and journalist who once studied to become a priest. Not affiliated with any party, Holownia has sparked some enthusiasm among those who are tired of years of bickering between law and justice and the civilian platform, the country’s two main parties.
Also in the running is a left-wing politician who is Poland’s first openly gay president, Robert Biedron; the head of an agricultural party, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz; and a legislator at the far-right Confederation Party, Krzysztof Bosak.
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