WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poland’s right-wing President Andrzej Duda fights for a second term during an election Sunday that will test whether he was helped by a campaign depicting LGBT rights as a dangerous ‘ideology’ and an unconventional last – minute reception by President Donald Trump at the White House.
It will be a new election test for populist leaders in Europe amid the coronavirus pandemic. Last weekend, Serbian autocratic right-wing President Aleksandar Vucic tightened his grip on power there during parliamentary elections boycotted by opposition parties.
The Polish elections are widely regarded as an important test of democracy, in this case in the fifth most populous country of the 27-member European Union.
A busy field of eleven candidates – all men – could make it harder for everyone to get the required 50% of the vote on Sunday, in which case there will be a layoff on July 12.
Duda is supported by Law and Justice, a nationalist, conservative party that is popular with many for introducing social spending programs. That policy has eased the hardships for older Poles and others who have been left behind in the dramatic economic transformation since communism fell in 1989.
“Poland has changed. It has changed for the better, “Duda said at a meeting on Friday, pledging to continue working to ensure that Poles achieve Western European living standards.
Duda and Law and Justice, both in power since 2015, have also caused tensions with the EU and have repeatedly sparked street protests at home over controversial laws that gave the party control over the highest courts and other major judicial bodies.
48-year-old Duda, trained as a lawyer, has signed most of these legislative changes and has been ridiculed as ‘notary’ or ‘the pen’ by his critics for approving changes that some legal experts believe violate the Polish constitution.
The European Union has strongly condemned judicial laws as violations of democratic standards. This year, the US-based group Freedom House lowered Poland’s ranking from “consolidated democracy” to “semi-consolidated democracy”.
“The destruction of the democratic constitutional state is almost complete,” said Jaroslaw Kurski, editor of the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza, in an appeal to readers this week to elect a democratic candidate.
“If we, citizens, democrats, do not mobilize, the next elections will be as ‘democratic’ as in Belarus, Russia or Hungary,” Kurski wrote.
According to polls, Duda’s biggest challenge comes from Liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who belongs to the pro-EU and pro-business Civic Platform party.
That party ruled from 2007-15, with Donald Tusk as prime minister until 2014, when he left Poland to assume a leading role as President of the European Council.
The Civic Platform oversaw strong economic growth, but is now blamed by many for a pro-market policy that has helped businesses but has increased poverty and increased economic inequality.
On the campaign track, Trzaskowski, 48, has pledged to keep Law and Justice’s popular spending programs and vowed 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 strong support, backed by adulterous public media coverage, began to slide once restrictions were lifted and other candidates were able to campaign.
When he seemed to lose support, Duda seized family values and vowed to protect Polish families from the spread of “LGBT ideology” in public institutions.
LGBT activists held street protests after Duda accused the LGBT rights movement of promoting a position more dangerous than communism, saying he agreed with another conservative politician who said, “LGBT is not a people, it’s an ideology.”
Some Polish World War II veterans who opposed a Nazi German occupation that considered Poland inhuman denounced Duda’s target of LGBT people as a new form of dehumanization.
Duda dropped the language in recent days and said during a rally on Friday that ‘Poland has room for everyone’.
The elections take place four days after Duda was received in the White House by Trump, who praised Poland for his “rule of law.”
“He’s doing a great job. The Poles think the world is his, ‘Trump said at a joint press conference with Duda on Wednesday.
However, the visit to Washington did not seem to bring any breakthroughs, and it is not clear whether Trump’s clear approval will win the indecisive voters.
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