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Poles vote at a polling station in Warsaw Poles vote at a polling station in Warsaw  (AFP or licensors)

Poland's president facing challenge in Sunday poll

Poland's president, Andrzej Duda, is seeking a second term in an election Sunday. The ballot will test whether voters share his plans of implementing his agenda, including judicial reforms that the European Union claims undermine democracy.

By Stefan J. Bos

Poland's 48-year old head-of-state Duda faced a crowded field of 11 male candidates who all want his job. That was due to make it harder for anyone to reach the required 50 percent of votes Sunday. In that case, a runoff would be due between the two top contenders on July 12.

Duda, who seeks a second five year-term, is backed by the Law and Justice, a nationalist, conservative party. It is popular with many for introducing welfare spending programs. Those policies have eased hardships for older Poles, and others left behind in the dramatic economic transformation since communism fell in 1989.

But Duda also faces mounting criticism from the European Union. The EU has strongly condemned him for signing judicial laws that it claims violates democratic standards. This year the U.S.-based group Freedom House downgraded Poland in its ranking from "consolidated democracy" to "semi-consolidated democracy."

Some critics have called the president the "Notary", or "The Pen", for approving changes that some legal experts say violate Poland's constitution.

Endorsing Duda

However, US President Donald Trump endorsed his Polish counterpart while hosting him at the White House in recent days. He said President Duda was doing a terrific job for his heavily Catholic nation.

And Trump pledged to send at least some US troops withdrawn from Germany to Poland. "So, we're going to be reducing our forces in Germany. Some will be coming home, and some will be going to other places, but Poland would be one of those other places, other places in Europe," Trump told reporters.

"I think it sends a very strong signal to Russia. But I think a stronger signal sent to Russia is the fact that Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars to purchase energy from Russia and through the pipeline," he stressed.

"And I'm saying, 'What's that all about? You're spending billions of dollars to Russia then we're supposed to defend you from Russia'?" the American president added.

"So, they're spending billions of dollars to buy Russian energy and then we're supposed to defend them from Russia. So that doesn't work too well. But Poland has been very, very terrific," Trump said.

Reducing troops

The US president abruptly announced earlier this month that he planned to reduce the permanent US troop presence in Germany from 34,500 to 25,000.

Duda made clear he appreciates this election present. But he also expressed concern about Europe's security. "I do not deny that I requested Mr. President that he would not withdraw US forces from Europe. Because the security of Europe is vital to me," Duda recalled.

"From Europe as such, I'm talking about United Europe, for which the American persons, since the end of the Second World War, are a huge security guarantee," he argued. "However, if anybody asks me if I am ready, that Poland receives more US troops in our country, of course, I am ready," Duda confirmed.

He suggested that the presence of American troops was crucial to counter what he views as neighboring Russia's military aggression in Ukraine and earlier in Georgia.

It was unclear whether Trump's military and moral support would help Duda in Sunday's elections, as he has been slipping in the polls. President Duda's most significant challenge comes from the liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.

Pro-market policies

He belongs to the pro-EU and pro-business Civic Platform party, which governed in the 2007-2015 period. It oversaw robust economic growth.

But it is also blamed for pro-market policies that helped businesses, but allowed poverty to spread and economic inequalities to grow.

Mayor Trzaskowski entered the race late after an election initially scheduled for May 10 was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sunday's vote is seen as another electoral test for populist leaders in Europe. Last weekend, Serbia's president, Aleksandar Vucic, strengthened his hold on power there in a parliamentary election that was boycotted by opposition parties.

28 June 2020, 16:00