Poles vote in presidential election that could define EU relations

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WARSAW (Reuters) – Poles vote Sunday in a knife-edge presidential election that could shape the country’s future relations with the European Union, which have been wiped out by bloc concerns over the state of law.

Polish President Andrzej Duda with his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda and daughter Kinga Duda attends his electoral rally in Rzeszow, Poland, July 10, 2020. Patryk Ogorzalek / Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS

Outgoing President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalists, Law and Justice (PiS), takes on Liberal Mayor of Warsaw Rafal Trzaskowski after a campaign that has shown very contrasting visions for the future and has revealed deep political divisions.

The re-election of Duda is crucial if PiS wants to deepen judicial reforms which, according to the European Union, strengthen political control over the courts.

The president has a veto and Trzaskowski has said he will block legislation that he says undermines democratic standards.

Since the Polish president has few executive powers, it is unlikely that Trzaskowski can make any significant changes if he wins. But with the presidency as well as the upper house of parliament in the hands of the opposition, the ability of the PiS to implement its agenda would be hampered.

The election is a second round after a first round on June 28. Polling stations will open at 05:00 GMT and close at 19:00 GMT, the date on which the results of an exit ballot will be announced.

Duda painted himself as a defender of Polish Catholic values ​​and generous welfare programs that transformed the lives of many, especially in the poorest rural areas of the country, the largest post-communist member of the EU .

“I believe we can build the Poland we dream of, a fair Poland, a rich Poland, a strong Poland … a Poland that can protect the weak and need not fear the strong,” Duda told supporters on Friday. asking them to compare their standard of living now with what it was before he took office.

However, while Duda promises to stand on the side of the weak, critics say his campaign also relied on homophobia and anti-Semitism.

He compared what he calls LGBT “ideology” to communist indoctrination of the Soviet era, while government spokesperson State TV used the delicate question of restitution of Jewish property to attack Trzaskowski.

“There are very energetic attempts, and at the center of these attempts is Mr. Trzaskowski, to make sure that in Poland different types of minorities can … terrorize others,” said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of PiS and the Polish President. de facto rule.

Trzaskowski became the target of religious conservatives for the promotion of gay rights after participating in pride marches and pledged to introduce sex education classes in Warsaw schools.

MORE TOLERANT POLAND

Trzaskowski says he is looking for a more open and tolerant Poland and has criticized the rhetoric of PiS, while promising to abolish the public television channel TVP Info.

“Have you ever heard such homophobia, such anti-Semitism, such attacks against all those who have the courage to say” we have had enough “”, he asked his supporters on Friday, opposing the use of the language by PiS to that of opposition politicians.

But while promising to block PiS justice reforms and condemn attacks on minorities, Trzaskowski stressed that he would leave the PiS popular welfare programs intact and not seek to raise the retirement age.

The mayor of Warsaw and the presidential candidate of the main Polish opposition party, the civic platform (PO) Rafal Trzaskowski, participate in an election campaign rally in Rybnik, Poland, on July 10, 2020. Grzegorz Celejewski / Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS

Trzaskowski has tried to portray himself as someone who can unite a divided nation, but many observers say that a period of bitter conflict between the PiS-dominated parliament and the presidential palace awaits if it wins.

Adam Schulz, a 36-year-old office worker enjoying an ice cream under the central Warsaw sun, said it was this deep division that could drive Sunday’s participation to record levels.

“Over the years, polarization in the political arena means that more and more people want to express their opinions … that’s why I think there is more interest,” he said. “There is no conversation between these parties. “

Reports by Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Anna Koper; Editing by Frances Kerry

Our standards:Principles of the Thomson Reuters Trust.

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