Andrzej Duda is to remain in the presidential palace for the next 5 years (at least, because who knows, since Poland is heading in the direction known so far from the countries East from us, perhaps there are some constitutional changes to happen?). I am not using phrases „he won the elections” or „he was chosen by the Poles” because those claims might not be entirely true
Many legal experts, such as prof. Łętowska, former Commissioner for Human Rights and a judge of the highest Polish courts and tribunals, argue that those elections were illegal: after the government’s failure to carry the elections on 10th of May as planned, Poland should have waited for the mandate of Andrzej Duda to expire, otherwise, there was no legal ground for the new vote. She goes as far as to call it a plebiscite.
There were also many irregularities. Thousands of voters were deprived of their rights – especially abroad in the countries, like the UK, where the postal vote took place and many ballot sets haven’t arrived on time. Polish embassies in Ireland and in the UK lied to Poles saying, that local laws prevent them from delivering votes to embassies and consulates personally: in London and most of the UK it was dealt with by spontaneously organized courier company run by volunteers
No major frauds were observed, but several discrepancies and small scale rigging were reported. The fact that National Electoral Commission refused to publish partial results, as it is customary with the vote count progressing, also raised a few brews. Some also point to the fact, that publishing the results before the vote ended is illegal, and yet the polls were published while many Poles were still waiting in the queues to cast their ballots – in Split, for example, Poles holidaying in Croatia were voting well into the night.
The deadline for protests is very short – just three days. And many people still have hope, as the result was so close to the draw that even minor things could ensure Duda’s victory. But those protests are to be examined by the Highest Court, which is already under the control of PiS. This was the main reason why PiS decided not to introduce Emergency State to postpone elections due to coronavirus: the state of emergency extends terms of office of all public servants, including the chair of the High Court. And they really wanted to have it under control already in April. So I am not holding my breath, especially that its spokesperson already told, that “high turnout legitimatizes those elections”. Some still might have hope but in reality, the election issue is done and dusted.
But even if the elections were legal, they were certainly not fair. Andrzej Duda had a huge advantage. First, he was the only one allowed to be on the campaign trail: while all other candidates had to cancel all rallies and meetings due to COVID-19 lock-down measures, he toured the whole country accompanied by TVP cameras under the pretext of “supervising how the things are going”. According to Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, which monitored the election, the glaring bias of public media and the involvement of the government and public servants in his campaign were critical in ensuring Duda’s victory. The OSCE also stressed the fact that the ruling party has been using truly hateful language towards the minorities. The effects on the public were clearly visible: in Warsaw, a gay couple’s flat was marked with “FUCK LGBT” graffiti and arrows pointing at their window. Another brutal attack on gay people happened, and, according to the witnesses, Police yet another time refused to do their job. Perhaps the cops were too busy in the streets of Warsaw, escorting the van plastered with hateful anti-LGBT propaganda, that had been stopped by outraged members of the public several times already. Ah, sorry, according to the police the van was not “escorted” by police cars, they were there merely to “monitor its route in case of potential disturbances”.
The hateful campaign was also targetted at Rafał Trzaskowski himself. After the driver, who crashes one of the Warsaw’s buses has been found to be under influence of amphetamine, PiS propaganda machine was doing everything in its power to show Trzaskowski, Warsaw’s mayor, as the man, who is responsible for this situation because he hired a German company to service Warsaw with buses driven by drug addicts (some of Warsaw’s buses are operated by German-owned Arriva).
In the drive to prove that this is a regular occurrence, the Police began randomly testing bus drivers. One of the drivers has been arrested and spent the night at the police station under the false accusations of driving under the influence of drugs. Of course, he was innocent, but the evening news had their feed already…
And some pro-PiS journalists went even further, openly comparing Trzaskowski to Nazi Germans:
Nie, tym razem to nie jest konto satyryczne. Najprawdziwszy Tomasz Sakiewicz. Żaden parodysta by tego nie wymyślił.
— Estera Flieger (@estera_flieger) July 10, 2020
Under such circumstances, Rafał Trzaskowski’s result is worth much more than that of his opponent. Coming late to the campaign he managed to obtain record number of signatures and after just a few short weeks of campaign shadowed by COVID-19 epidemics he almost (or just, if we believe those, who claim that the elections were rigged) managed to beat incumbent president supported by the government and the propaganda machinery running on an unprecedented scale. Still, this changes a little, and perhaps even for the worst, as PiS knows that those were the last fair (or: fair-ish) election they won: the demographics leave no doubt about it.
The correlation is clear: the younger and/or better educated the voter is, the more likely is to vote against PiS candidate. Poles abroad, with the exception of the Polish Diaspora in the US, traditionally known for supporting right-wing parties, overwhelmingly voted for Trzaskowski. And even in Chicago Duda’s victory was much smaller than expected. Small villages voted for Duda. Big, cosmopolitan cities – for Trzaskowski. Those analyses show two things: Duda was supported by people more likely to buy into PiS propaganda, but also by those for whom those few hundred złotys from the government significantly improved quality of life. To put it bluntly: Duda was supported by those, who rely on government payments and handouts. His opponent by pretty much everyone who’s paying for those.
And the number of PiS voters is unlikely to grow – not only because for many of them those could be their last elections due to advanced age. It is also because they cannot continue to throw money at people forever. And when they fail to deliver on their promises, Poles will be quick to turn their back at them – most likely turning instead to even more right-wing parties. This is why those, who voted Bosak in the first round were the only ones of the supporters of other major candidates that were not voting overwhelmingly for Trzaskowski: they know they just have to wait: their time is yet to come.
This is why PiS knows that now is the time to cement themselves in the position of power. Even before official results came in, several of PiS politicians were already telling about speeding the process of “reforms”. Following the Hungarian pattern they will now attempt to silence the media: “The situation when part of the media become, in fact, an election team of one of the candidates should not take place” – said Minister of Justice to the reporter of (oh, the irony) TVP – “We have to take care about basic mechanisms of democracy, and one of those is reliable information about what is going in Polish politics”. They call it “repolonisation” because, obviously, all the media critical of PiS belong to Germans and other enemy forces.
President’s spokesperson already attacked TVN – a major private TV station. Together with the speeding up the process of judicial “reform”, it indicates that tough times are coming for independent journalism. It has already been noticed abroad: European Centre for Press and Media Freedom awarded 15000 € legal defence grant to Gazeta Wyborcza. To PiS’s surprise also the USA made it very clear that upholding democratic standards in Poland is very important: the US Ambassador to Poland criticizes PiS politicians >with tweets that are in diplomatic language what nuclear weapons are to the armaments:
I view this type of divisive and hateful commentary as disgusting and deplorable. Any decent human being should reject this type of rhetoric! https://t.co/KcgyO7nV1b
— Georgette Mosbacher (@USAmbPoland) July 13, 2020
The US Department of State also awarded a grant to Open Dialogue Foundation to conduct lessons in democracy and build citizen’s society in the High Schools. The fact, that ODF is run by Lyudmyla Kozlovka from Brussels where she settled after she was deported from Poland under trumped-up charges for her firm criticism of PiS “reforms”, is yet additional slap in the face for Kaczyński and Ziobro.
It might be a consolation for many Poles who oppose PiS to hear, that they are not alone. But the fact is, that those elections were yet another instance of eroding Polish democracy. Andrzej Duda might say what he wants, but the fact is that his democratic mandate is very weak. Still – it does not really matter. Because with him remaining in the presidential palace, PiS holds nearly every card in their hands. And they will make good use of it before the next elections three years from now.
This piece was written for Britské Listy
Picture: Stiopa (CC 4.0)