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Who will emerge as the victor in Poland's presidential election?

Editor's note: Ju Hao is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On June 28, Poland will hold the first round of its presidential election, seven weeks later than it was originally scheduled. In a normal situation, a seven-week delay might not be a big deal. However, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and potential economic recession in the past several months, the delay of the Polish presidential election may not only increase the uncertainty of the electoral outcomes, but also significantly affect the future political development of Poland.

The election was originally scheduled to be held on May 10. But the sudden outbreak of the pandemic disturbed the main political agenda of Poland. To fight the virus, the Polish government introduced a state of epidemic and announced further restrictions on production and operating activities and people's movement. Whether to postpone the presidential election became a heated debate.

Indeed, the governing party, Law and Justice (PiS), was not willing to postpone the election. After losing the majority in the Senate in the 2019 parliamentary election, PiS is more eager to hold on to the presidency. For PiS's judicial reforms, a presidency that has the right to veto government legislation and refer legislation to the Constitutional Tribunal for review is also vital. So when the PiS-backed president, Andrzej Duda, comfortably led in public support, the governing party chose to hold the election at the scheduled time instead of postponing it, letting other potential issues cut Duda's lead. That is why the Polish government introduced a state of epidemic rather than a state of emergency, because it would automatically postpone the election.

However, the PiS's decision was assailed by all the opposing parties and the majority of the population. The governing partner of PiS, the Agreement Party, also expressed its objection. Against this backdrop, PiS was forced to postpone the election. On June 3, the speaker of the Sejm officially announced that the schedule was finalized and the election would be held on June 28, with a run-off two weeks later.

Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski (left), and President of Poland Andrzej Duda. /AP/Czarek Sokolowski.

Currently, the incumbent President Duda is still recognized as the front-runner, whereas the candidate from Civic Platform (PO), Rafal Trzaskowski, is catching up. PiS and PO have long been the major contestants in Poland's political system. And due to their party affiliation, Duda and Trzaskowski have different opinions on many issues.

In terms of economy, Duda pays close attention to large infrastructure projects and generous support to firms and households in line with the COVID-19 fiscal package. In contrast, Trzaskowski is in favor of local infrastructure investment projects rather than the ongoing large projects and calls for more investment in green energy. Trade protectionism and economic liberalism are important topics in the election. Akin to other Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, the economy of Poland highly relies on foreign trade, especially with EU members.

Specific to the medical industry, 85 percent of all medical equipment used in Poland is imported. With the outbreak of the pandemic, many European countries announced nationwide lockdowns and adopted severe restrictions on logistics and transportation. This brought great difficulties to Poland's epidemic prevention and economic recovery. Thus a voice of economic protectionism grows louder in Poland and other CEE countries. In this regard, economic protectionism might be used as a tactic to attract voters in the election.

Polish President Andrzej Duda (left) has pursued closer relations with the U.S. under President Donald Trump. /AP/Evan Vucci

However, this tactics cannot help Poland out of the economic plight. In a globalized society with a high degree of division of labor, it is not possible or efficient for a country to solely rely on its own resources and build a complete industrial chain. The flow of capital and trade also follows specific rules and can hardly be kidnapped by the voice of protectionism or anti-globalization. Indeed, for a country seeking to recover its economy, economic cooperation and international trade remain two of the main driving forces.

The two candidates might know this well. Trzaskowski stated that Poland should pursue economic liberalism and strengthen its market economy status in Europe. Duda paid a visit to the U.S. to enhance the political and economic cooperation. Duda hopes to increase chips for his successful reelection by visiting America. However, opinions about the U.S. visit vary a lot. Some argue that Duda's trip will bring to focus Poland's planned robust spending on American military equipment, which is unwelcomed amid a bad economy. Also, bashing from President Donald Trump's American opponents seems to be inevitable. 

According to POLITICO polls, Duda's poll numbers have been trending downward because more and more people are worried about potential economic hardship and the curve of the pandemic has not flattened. As predicted, the first round will still be a victory for Duda, but he is likely to win less than 50 percent of the vote. In the run-off, Duda and Trzaskowski are neck-and-neck in the polls. Duda is set to enjoy some support from supporters of nationalist candidate Krzysztof Bosak, while supporters of the other four candidates are likely to vote for Trzaskowski. If Duda is elected, he would certainly preserve the current government policies. If Trzaskowski wins, the rule and judicial reforms of PiS would meet more challenges.