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Duda's reelection further divides Poland

Dudek Bartosz Kommentarbild App
Bartosz Dudek
July 13, 2020

Poland's conservative President Andrzej Duda has won a second term. This could mean an end to an independent judiciary and a further erosion of the separation of powers in the country, writes DW's Bartosz Dudek.

Newly reelected President Adrzej Duda speaks to the press
Image: Reuters/A. Szmigiel

It was close, but Andrzej Duda has managed to scrape another five-year term. That makes him the second Polish president since the end of the communist regime in 1989 to be reelected.

Duda's challenger, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, did extremely well despite his eventual defeat and will now see his political career take off in earnest. This new, young face of liberal Poland wants to unite the opposition and try his luck again in the 2023 parliamentary elections.

Until then, however, the incumbent president's reelection will enable the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) to consolidate its power and continue with the conservative revolution it launched in 2015. Among other things, it can pursue its onslaught on the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers.

Mayor of Warsaw Rafal Trzaskowski appears at an election rally in front of fans with flags
Rafal Trzaskowski picked up the majority of the votes in the north and west of Poland, making the country's divides clearImage: Getty Images/O. Marques

Assault on media to continue

The assault on media outlets that are critical of the government is also likely to be continued, if the president's wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, is anything to go by. She has been especially critical of journalists, even calling some of them out by name.

Poland's public broadcaster has already been turned into a propaganda station for the ruling party. Now, private media outlets will also be targeted. As many of them have foreign owners, PiS chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland's de facto leader, has spoken of the necessity of making media "Polish" again. More conflict with Brussels can be expected on this score.

A split country

This election has shown once again how divided the country remains. There are strong splits between western and northern Poland — which voted overwhelmingly for Trzaskowski — and southern and eastern Poland — Duda's heartlands.

Read more: Anti-German sentiment colors Polish president's election campaign

But the divides also run deeply between urban centers and rural areas, between the old and the young. Those lines also divide families, circles of friends and towns.

DW journalist Bartosz Dudek
DW journalist Bartosz Dudek

Will Duda step up to the mark?

After election campaigns marked by strong polarization, it would make sense if the victors were to do everything in their power to smooth over divisions.

However, this did not happen after Duda's first election in 2015. The president was largely unable to step out from under the shadow of his mentor, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who sees conflict as the motor of politics and is not one for seeking compromise with opponents. That's only for the weak, in his opinion.

Now, though, Duda is faced with a choice. He no longer has to worry about being reelected and could thus once again try to gain some independence from his mentor.

The question is whether he actually wants to do this and whether he can muster the necessary strength of character to carry out his role as a president should. The people have made their choice; now Duda must make his.

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