3 takeaways from the Polish presidential election
3 takeaways from the Polish presidential election
On the 12th of July incumbent President Andrzej Duda won the race for the highest position in the country for the next five years, with 51.03 % of votes.
With the turnout of more than 68%, which was one of the highest in Poland since the fall of communism in 1989, Andrzej Duda (supported by the Law and Justice Party, PiS) defeated Liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski (Civic Coalition), with 51.03 % to 48.97% of votes respectively. The results clearly showed that the division of the nation further polarised between PiS supporters and an anti-PiS faction, consisting of liberals and the left. The division seems to be a result of a clash between younger and older generations, cities and rural areas and over the role of traditional values opposed to gay rights, abortion, immigration, climate change and overall relations with the EU, including judiciary reforms and the rule of law.
Poland’s political divisions were already emphasised in the first round of elections. The results showed that more than 1.3 million Poles share hard-line nationalism ideology, represented by a far-right candidate Krzysztof Bosak (Confederation). This should not come as a surprise when you consider the creed of "family and traditional values" approach followed by the ultra-conservative PiS party since it took power in 2015, alongside the homophobia and anti-migrant discourse on which the Polish far-right bases itself.
Andrzej Duda rallied conservative voters by following a similar discourse during the presidential campaign. Supported by the public television TVP, which is controlled by PiS, President Duda’s messages were a mix of anti-European, anti-LGBT and pro-family policies. The opposition candidate Rafał Trzaskowski advocated for the need to guide Poland towards climate neutrality, to build bridges with Brussels and stop further politicisation of the courts.
Ruling party strengthens its powers
The president’s role is rather representative, with limited executive and legislative power given. Regardless of how promising the candidate's programmes were, without the support of the lower house of parliament, Sejm, the president can do very little. Yet in practice, the victory of Andrzej Duda, who is aligned with the ruling party PiS, further strengthens the government’s mandate and allows it to implement its programme unhindered until the next parliamentary elections in 2023.
This applies to the reform of the judiciary, which resulted in a clash with European institutions, and to strengthening the control over the media. Now Poland may have reached a turning point, in light of the EU budget negotiations and the Council discussions to link the EU recovery funds to the rule of law. Not only does Poland need EU money, but also has to work towards securing strategic alliances and strengthening its image in Europe and in the world.
To push its strategic interests forward in these areas, PiS will probably be willing to compromise. Brussels should also consider rethinking its strategy towards Warsaw.
Suggested healthcare reforms – a new change or just pie in the sky
Despite the ongoing pandemic, which underlined the need to increase focus on healthcare, health issues were not a significant part of the programmes nor the campaign discussions.
Rafał Trzaskowski’s program included many postulates related to improving the healthcare system. These were: greater expenditure on health care and training of medical staff, addressing the shortage of healthcare workers, implementing extensive preventive programmes or developing the e-health and telemedicine programs. The liberal candidate also advocated for the need to ensure access to modern, innovative therapies, as well as access to affordable medicines.
Although Andrzej Duda's election program contained some promises, it largely consisted of reminders of the past achievements of President Duda and the party he is an ally to, PiS. Among the achievements of the last five years are the adoption of the National Cancer Strategy or Law on the Protection of Health Against the Consequences of Using a Solarium. During his campaign, the President also submitted a proposal to the Sejm on a Medical Fund. The Fund of EUR 895 million would serve to facilitate access to treatment for cancer and rare disease patients. It is yet to be seen if the proposal will go forward, as the meeting of the Sejm’s Committee on Health to discuss the proposal got postponed once the results were announced.
Medical society speak up
Supporters of both Presidential candidates from the medical community published their joint opinions on both candidates.
While as many as 317 healthcare professionals signed a position supporting the candidacy of Mayor Trzaskowski, fully identifying and supporting the elements of his election programme, only 23 signed the letter supporting Duda. The independent representatives of medical community stated that PiS and Mr Duda are not fulfilling the promises they have made. The patient needs are not being met, and Poland remains at the very bottom of the list of the EU countries in healthcare quality indicators. The government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the implementation of anti-crisis shields, has forgotten about the needs of the healthcare system, the needs of patients and medical staff. The signatories touched upon the government’s discriminatory policies as to cultural and social minorities and underlined that Poland needs a president that would unite the nation.
It is very rare for representatives of one social group to openly support a particular presidential candidate. But again, this was not an ordinary election year.