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Polish President wins knife-edge election

Duda’s challenger, liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, had pledged to repair Poland’s relations with Europe and use the presidential veto power to hold back any legislation that would subvert the rule of law.

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Opinion polls before the election had shown the candidates, both 48, neck and neck, with Trzaskowski having closed the gap on Duda, who initially looked like a clear favourite.

Backed by the government, Duda ran an acrimonious campaign, laced with homophobic language, attacks on independent media and accusations levied against Trzaskowski that he would serve foreign interests instead of Poland’s.

Duda, a devout believer, had painted himself as a defender of Catholic values and of the government’s generous social benefit programs that have transformed life for many, especially in the poorer rural regions of the country.

He appeared conciliatory on Sunday. “If anyone was offended by anything I did or said in the last five years, not just during the campaign, please accept my apology,” he told supporters in Pultusk, a small town north of the capital.

Tight race: Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.

Tight race: Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.Credit:Bloomberg

Borys Budka, the head of Trzaskowski’s PO party, said it was “a scandal” that some voters abroad did not receive their mail-in ballots on time. “This is a great failure of the state, regardless of who wins,” Budka told private broadcaster TVN24.

The election was the first time all voters had a choice to cast ballots by mail, a change in rules necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

For many religious conservatives in Poland, Trzaskowski came to represent the threats facing traditional values when he pledged to introduce education about LGBT rights in the city’s schools.

The archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jedraszewski, told worshippers in the southern city of Czestochowa on Saturday that Poland faced a “lethal danger” from ideologies that seek to undermine the traditional family structure and corrupt children.

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Trzaskowski says he seeks a more tolerant Poland and has criticised the Law and Justice party’s rhetoric, vowing to abolish state news channel TVP Info, which critics say gave overt support to Duda in its programming.

“In politics, you should have opponents, not enemies,” Trzaskowski said on Sunday. “They thought they had full power, but today they have fear in their eyes.”

The election is being closely watched in Brussels.

Reuters, with wires

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