Anti-vaccine, conspiracy theories about Jews and hate speech against sexual minorities.
Poland will hold the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, which is becoming a tough race. At the same time, the election has been described as dividing Poland even more deeply in two.
The incumbent President, Andrzej Duda, from the Conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), and Rafał Trzaskowski, the Liberal Mayor of the Opposition Party in Warsaw, have been at almost the same level in recent weeks.
At the same time, the election debate has moved on strange tracks.
- Rarely has there been much talk about the matter. Anti-Semitic positions, for example, have emerged in the second round of elections. Trzaskowski has been accused by the Law and Justice Party that if he won, he would give Polish Jews compensation in connection with the events of World War II. There have also been conspiracy theories that Trzaskowski would receive funding from some strange organization, also supported by billionaire George Soros, sums up Polish expert Tommi Eskola, a specialist in social sciences.
Soros, who supports many pro-democracy organizations, has been implicated in many conspiracy theories, especially by the far right.
Duda opposed the coronary vaccine
Duda has attacked sexual minorities in his campaign and most recently also opposed the coroner vaccine.
- I do not support mandatory vaccinations. Taking the coronary vaccine should be personal, not mandatory, Duda commented.
While the opposition criticized the statement as anti-vaccine, Duda later sought to clarify that there is no opposition to, for example, polio and tuberculosis vaccines.
During his campaign, Duda has declared that the promotion of the rights of sexual and gender minorities is an “ideology” that is more destructive than communism.
In his speeches, Duda has been seen as targeting voters, especially from the far right and from religious circles in Poland. Far-right presidential candidate Krzysztof Bosak garnered 1.3 million votes in the first round of the presidential election, and the votes of his constituents could play a big role in the second round, according to the online magazine Politico.
Trzaskowski's rise in the election can also be considered somewhat surprising. If he wins, it would be the first time since 2015, when the Law and Justice will lose the election in Poland.
- Along the spring it seemed that Duda would go through the first round. When the election was postponed because of the corona, the Civic Forum managed to find a new candidate that changed the situation. The opposition has now managed to find a suitable opponent, Eskola says.
Eskola estimates that there are many things behind the decline in the popularity of the ruling party.
- There has been growing dissatisfaction with the party's activities. Changes in the judiciary and the harnessing of the state media purely behind Duda’s election campaign have increased dissatisfaction.
PiS has been repeatedly criticized for eroding the independence of the Polish judiciary. In recent years, the party has made legislative changes aimed, for example, at increasing the power of government-appointed individuals in the Supreme Court. Polish judges have opposed the changes and said they were politicizing the judiciary.
The European Union has also been concerned about the development of the rule of law in Poland and has repeatedly alarmed Poland.
Liberal Trzaskowski wants to close the gap with the EU
At the same time, PiS has managed to win many elections, citing voters in rural and smaller towns in particular.
The party has been praised for, among other things, social policy reforms that have lowered the retirement age and increased child benefits, which has promoted the position of low-income Poles in particular.
According to Eskola, social reforms enjoy widespread popularity, and opposition candidate Trzaskowski has also promised to keep them in force.
At the same time, his campaign has focused on opposition to the ruling party and promises to return Poland to the so-called liberal path.
Among other things, cosmopolitan and multilingual Trzaskowski has promised that he will correct Poland's ties with the European Union and stop undemocratic reforms.
As mayor, Trzaskowski has also set out to support the rights of sexual and gender minorities. He is the first mayor in Polish history to take part in the Warsaw pride procession and give a speech there.
Trzaskowski has also promised to make changes to the media law so that it can no longer be used to spread government propaganda.
- This is not just an election between Andrzej Duda and Rafal Trzaskowski. This is an election between an open Poland and an enemy-seeking Poland that now has a president who wants to divide the country in two, Trzaskowski said at his election ceremony in Warsaw.
Bitter dividing lines
Indeed, Poland has become increasingly divided during the elections. This is illustrated, for example, by the candidates' refusal to appear in the same television debate on Monday
According to Trzaskowski, the reason for the refusal was that the state television channel TVP could no longer be considered neutral and the debate would have been held in accordance with the sitting president.
For the same reasons, Duda refused to submit a debate to the private television channel TVN. Thus, both candidates eventually appeared alone in the programs of their choice.
- Yes, TVP has been clearly biased. The channel has taken a strong Duda half-election and black painted Trzaskowski, from the European Security and Cooperation Council of the OSCE election observers have given a note to Poland, says Eskola.
The savior of Poland?
If Trzaskowski succeeds in winning, he could, for his part, slow down Poland's current development. Some commentators have even painted a picture of him as a savior of Poland who can still turn the country away from undemocratic development.
- As president, he would at least be able to slow down PiS reforms and use the president's veto on Parliament's new bills. Admittedly, the lower house of parliament, where PiS has a small majority, is still able to pass them through, Eskola says.
However, Eskola points out that even if Trzaskowski wins the election, that does not necessarily mean that support will be more widely reflected in opposition support.
- It is more about dissatisfaction with the ruling party.