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Polish Election campaign and the candidacy in protest phenomenon

On July 12th 2020, the final phase of the Polish Presidential Election took place, which witnessed the second highest registered turnout since the end of the communist rule in 1989. In fact, this election had the world on the edge of its seat with the incumbent president Duda winning marginally with 51.2% of the vote. However, what is particularly interesting about the recent election is the candidacy in protest phenomenon.  

The main opposition in the 2020 election was Rafal Trzaskowski who entered the race after the original date of the first round, May 15th. This means that if it was not for the complications caused by the Covid-19 outbreak and the backlash associated with the postal vote, the election would have gone ahead as planned on May 10th and Duda’s victory would have been more significant. In fact, the 2020 elections mark the slimmest winning majority since 1989. 

This concept of candidacy in protest may be more familiar to us than we imagine. Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign was very much based on downfalls of the government in office, rather than original policies per se. Likewise, Trzaskowski was promising a stop to Duda’s initiatives with the “Enough is Enough” slogan. The similarity we can draw from Trump’s and Trzaskowski’s campaign is that the votes they received were not necessarily for them in particular, but rather, against the government in place at the time of the election.  

This presidential campaign has gained global media attention due to the re-elected government’s stand on LGBT issues. This sole matter took priority in international news reports, prompting the Poles abroad to vote for Trzaskowski in order to protest Duda’s policies preventing same sex couples from adoption and, thus, protecting traditional family values. Furthermore, there have been reports of Poles abroad not being able to partake in the election due to their voting packages not arriving in time. This leaves a window for potential legal action being taken, especially with the winning margin being this thin.  

However, other matters were at stake during this election, such as the millions owed to Poland by Germany in WWII Reparation debt. One of the biggest victims of the Nazi Germany reign of terror was Poland, with 62% of its industry and 84% of its infrastructure destroyed, and the death of 17% of its civilians. To date, Germany has only incurred 2% of Poland’s material losses. Thus, making Poland a country which received the least amount of compensation in relation to the damages obtained.  

This is due to the Soviet-imposed regime in Poland (1947-1989) unilaterally waiving the country’s right to receive compensation from Germany. The importance of this issue surfaced during the 2020 Presidential Election as the conservative President Duda continues the fight for the WWII restoration debt to be repaid. Meanwhile, his main opponent showed no interest in pursuing the matter further.  

At the end of the day, no candidate was the obvious, right choice. When all facts are laid out, it’s hard to decide which candidate is better suited for the job. While Trzaskowski would have a healthier relationship with the EU and possibly introduce more progressive policies and initiatives to support the LGBT community, Duda is a nationalist with Poland’s best interest at heart. With his legal background he can reconstruct the legal system to make it fairer for individuals and prevent cases of government corruption. Duda might not have a perfect relationship with the EU, however, there is nothing wrong with being a member of the supranational organisation while maintaining the country’s sovereignty. In fact, Poland’s membership is not endangered due to the support Duda’s government has from Hungary.  

Finally, when looking at the anti-LGBT stance taken by Duda recently, we must realise the electoral, rather than personal, value the action had. It’s a move similar to David Cameron promising a Brexit referendum – which he personally never wanted – as means of being re-elected. Furthermore, the LGBT matter is rather complex due to the Catholic values the country holds, and the support Conservative party receives from the church. 

In the end, candidacy in protest is not as risky as an actual proactive campaign. Matters proposed by Trzaskowski weren’t provocative because they were not anything specific, they were just not what the competitor was proposing. And perhaps, an individual with no definitive action plan, is not best suited for a leadership role within the government. 

By Nicole Maka-Sprawa

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