Analysis: the run-off will be like a plebiscite

President Andrzej Duda and Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski who is standing for the largest opposition party, the Civic Platform (PO), have gone through to the second round of polling which will take place on Sunday 12 July. That second round is shaping up to be a plebiscite on the ruling party and the president it supports.

Andrzej Duda first with 41.8 pct, Rafał Trzaskowski second with 30.4 pct: Exit Poll

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According to the exit poll conducted by the IPSOS agency, the President, as expected won the first round polling 41.8 percent.This result will come as a relief that the Law and Justice (PiS) vote held up, though it failed, in terms of share of the poll, to match the ruling party’s score in the European Parliamentary and the Polish Parliamentary election.

However, any hope that the President could outperform the party that supports him and win outright in the first round perished when the May election was voided. The appearance of a stronger PO candidate in the shape of Mr Trzaskowski mobilised the opposition vote and ensured this contest will go the distance.

President Duda must now go pitch for votes of the radical right and the centre-right Polish People’s Party (PSL). But the electorate which may decide the contest are those who did not turn out in the first round but who may do so now that the polarised choice is crystal clear.

The second round is now a plebiscite on the President and the ruling party. The two candidates are proxies in the battle between PiS and the PO that has dominated Polish politics for the past 15 years.

The ruling party will not feel that this election is decided. It will remember only too well that back in October last year it won a majority in the Lower House of Parliament polling over 43 percent of the vote but even a slightly higher percentage polled in the elections for the Senate did not save the ruling party from the opposition winning a majority in Poland’s second chamber.

The main challenger behind but on an upward curve

Rafał Trzaskowski looks to have revived his party’s fortunes and has polled 30.4 percent. It is a result which outperformed his party’s poll ratings. He has therefore realised the task of ensuring that the PO remains Poland’s strongest opposition party and that it is in play to win the presidency in two weeks time. He has nothing to lose and will go into the second round hoping to win the votes of the remaining opposition candidates. He and his supporters will believe momentum is with them.

Mr Trzaskowski seems to have benefited from a high turnout in metropolitan areas. The fact that he was a fresh face in the re-run of the election looks to have been a major boon for him. He smartly refused to engage in any exchanges with other opposition candidates and concentrated his fire on the incumbent and the ruling party.

However, now in the second round he will have to tread carefully in attracting votes from opposition candidates. He has to cast his net widely, even among the radical right’s Krzysztof Bosak to make up ground from the first round. And he may have to go head to head in a televised debate with the incumbent.

Simple Szymon choice: form a party or not?

Turnout in presidential election at record high: Electoral Commission

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Szymon Hołownia’s third place with 13.3 percent is impressive for a political novice and independent. But two months ago it looked as if he had a good chance of making the run-off. Mr Trzaskowski’s entry into the race changed all that. He has to make do with the political capital he has built up and must decide now whether to build a political movement of his own or to stay in politics by working with the Civic Platform or the Polish People’s Party (PSL).

For the time being he will have to answer questions about what he wants his supporters to do in the second round of polling. He has already said that he will vote for Mr Trzaskowski. But will he urge those who voted for him in the first round to do the same? Much may depend on talks he and his aides have with Mr Trzaskowski and the PO.

Radical right holds its own

Krzysztof Bosak won respect and loyalty from his own party for the campaign he ran. The result he got, 7.4 percent, is respectable and matches the poll ratings his party has been getting. He was not squeezed out of the picture by the bigger Law and Justice (PiS) and the President it supported. Some politicians in the Confederation party have talked openly about the fact that it would not be in the interests of their party for President Duda to be re-elected. But Mr Bosak will not openly declare total hostility towards President Duda. Confederation may want Mr Duda to fall, but they don’t want their knives to be found in his back.

Left out in the cold

The summer weather is hot at the moment, but the Left will tonight have felt a distinct political chill in the air. Robert Biedroń’s campaign never really took off. The 2.9 percent is testimony to that. It is well below what the Left as a political force polled in the parliamentary elections and the block’s opinion poll rating. Mr Biedroń found support for him draining away to Mr Trzaskowski and Mr Hołownia. The Left must now decide quickly whether to keep its distance from the PO or to back its candidate in the second round and come firmly into the larger party’s orbit for the future or to shift more towards the left as Adrian Zandberg and the “Together” part of the Left caucus would wish.

Putting a brave face on a disappointment

Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and the PSL had hoped for a better result. 2.6 percent of the poll is well below his party’s opinion poll rating and its result in last year’s parliamentary election. The PSL has never done well in presidential elections, but appetites had been wetted by Mr Kosiniak-Kamysz’s personal popularity and visibility over the past year. Back in March and April he was often polling well in excess of ten percent and some felt he and his party might displace the PO in the centre of Polish political ground. But he suffered from Mr Trzaskowski entering the fray in May and his vote has been mercilessly squeezed. He and his party will not want to support Mr Trzaskowski unconditionally in the second round as to survive the PSL must retain its independence.

High turnout

The projected turnout of 62.9 percent is a record for a first round of a presidential election in Poland. It should be perceived as an indicator of Polish democracy providing enough choice for voters and a belief among them that elections do make a difference to their lives. Polarisation is undoubtedly boosting the turnout and is likely to do so again in the second round of polling. The fact that opinion polls are showing the result of that second round to be in the balance can only help to boost turnout even more.