The incumbent president Andrzej Duda defeated the mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski in the run-off presidential election on Sunday, securing approximately 51.2% of the votes. At more than 67%, the election recorded the highest turnout of any Polish election of the last 25 years.
While Duda stroke a conciliatory tone during his speech right after the exit poll results were published, his victory marks the continuation of an unprecedented level of political concentration in modern Polish history, with Law and Justice being in the position to control both the parliament and the president’s office for another three years after it has ruled the country since 2015.
There are serious reasons to doubt president Duda’s more open approach presented during last night’s speech. The last week of the presidential campaign continued to be a nasty affair, as the incumbent and the ruling camp are willing to cross any lines of political decorum in order to secure his reelection.
During an hour-long campaign speech televised by the Polish public broadcaster under the guise of a presidential debate (in which only Duda participated), the sitting president caused a stir by declaring himself as an enemy of mandatory vaccination after he said that “I’m absolutely not a proponent of any mandatory vaccines. Personally, I never got a flu shot, just because. A coronavirus vaccine shouldn’t be mandatory either”.
Duda also accused Germany of interfering with Polish elections in response to an article published in the German-owned tabloid “Fakt” which criticized his controversial decision to pardon a child molester. He further played up the historical hostilities between Germany and Poland by claiming that Rafał Trzaskowski is the favoured candidate of German media and political class since he is “against Germany paying WWII reparations to Poland”.
Both examples can be seen as efforts on the side of Duda to cater to the far-right voters who supported Krzysztof Bosak in the first round two weeks ago. In order to win the race for Bosak’s supporters, Duda is willing to provide a platform to far-right conspiracy theories and chauvinist resentment.
German media and German-owned Polish media were not the only media outlets attacked by the ruling camp this week. After a Law and Justice MEP Beata Mazurek claimed that the US-owned, private TV broadcaster TVN was covertly created by the post-communist military counterintelligence, the U.S. ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher responded that the MEP’s words were below the "dignity of the person who represents Poles".
The ruling camp’s attacks on the media sector will undoubtedly gain steam following the presidential election. Last Friday, Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro announced that he planned to 'draw conclusions' from the recent publications. - We have to think carefully about the situation of the media in Poland, because we simply cannot allow for what is going on right now to be seen as normal - he said.
What is normal, at the moment, is a pattern of constant harassment aimed at independent media and orchestrated by the ruling camp and the state-owned companies it controls. As Adam Stasiak and Paulina Milewska reported this week, Gazeta Wyborcza itself is currently facing more than 55 legal actions initiated by the ruling camp in an effort to freeze the freedom of speech. To help us deal with the onslaught of legal actions, we have been recently granted financial support from the Media Freedom Rapid Response, a body in charge of tracking, monitoring and responding to threats and violations of press and media freedom in the European Union and its candidate countries.
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