Conservative Polish president wins second term after tight race

President wins 2nd term

Polish President Andrzej Duda, a conservative who ran a campaign with homophobic and anti-Semitic overtones, narrowly won a second five-year term in a bitterly fought runoff election, defeating the liberal Warsaw mayor, according to a near-complete count of votes Monday.

Duda received 51.21% of Sunday's vote with 99.97% of the districts reporting, the state electoral commission said. His opponent, Rafal Trzaskowski, got 48.79%.

Final results, expected later Monday, could vary slightly, but Duda’s lead appeared unassailable. Trzaskowski thanked his voters on Twitter and congratulated Duda, expressing hope his second term would be “really different” from his first.

Duda's supporters celebrated what they saw as a clear mandate for him and the right-wing ruling party that backs him, Law and Justice, to continue on a path that has reduced poverty but raised concerns that democracy is under threat.

Critics and human rights groups expressed concerns that Duda's victory would boost illiberal tendencies not only at home but also within the European Union, which has struggled to halt an erosion of rule of law in Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Orban posted a picture of himself on Facebook shaking hands with Duda in the Hungarian parliament with “Bravo!” and graphics of a hand showing a “V” for victory and a Polish flag.

Zselyke Csaky, an expert on central Europe with the human rights group Freedom House, said Duda's victory gives the party “essentially free rein" until parliamentary elections in 2023 “to do away with limits on its power and work towards destroying Poland’s independent institutions, such as the judiciary or the media.”

The close race reflected the deep cultural divisions in this EU nation.

It followed a bitter campaign dominated by issues of culture in which the government, state media and the influential Roman Catholic Church all mobilized in support of Duda and sought to stoke fears of Jews, LGBT people and Germans.

Duda also got an apparent endorsement from U.S. President Donald Trump with a last-minute White House invitation in late June. Trump praised Duda, saying: “He’s doing a terrific job. The people of Poland think the world of him.”

Duda's campaign focused on defending traditional family values in the predominantly Catholic nation of 38 million people, and on preserving social spending policies.

The party's policies include hugely popular monthly cash bonuses of 500 zlotys ($125) per child to all families irrespective of income. They have helped alleviate poverty in rural regions, and given all families more money to spend.

Duda and the party, both in power since 2015, also solidified support among older Poles by lowering the retirement age and introducing a yearly cash bonus called a “13th pension.”

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