Polish conservative President Andrzej Duda has won five more years in power on a socially conservative, religious platform in a closely fought election.
Nearly final results from Sunday’s presidential election runoff showed Duda, 48, on over 51%, giving him an unbeatable lead over liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who won almost 49% of the votes, the National Election Commission said.
Duda is allied with the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, and his victory reinforces the government’s mandate to pursue reforms of the judiciary and media which the European Commission, the European Union executive, says subvert democratic standards.
Duda has painted himself as a guardian of traditional values and the generous PiS welfare programmes that have transformed life for many poorer Poles.
However, he ran an acrimonious campaign laced with homophobic language, attacks on private media and accusations that Trzaskowski serves foreign interests instead of Poland’s.
Since the polls closed he has struck a more conciliatory tone, pleading for unity in the deeply polarised country.
“Hold back as much as you can from unnecessary words… because words can hurt,” he told supporters. “Please, help me put Poland back together again.”
Trzaskowski, who had said he would repair Poland’s relations with Europe and use the presidential veto to block any legislation that would erode democratic norms, said he thought the PiS would not change direction.
“Unfortunately it seems like the other side has not learned lessons,” Trzaskowski said. “That is why we hear statements that the process of politicising the courts will be completed… Unfortunately those in power do not want to reach out their hand to us.”
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro suggested late on Sunday that the PiS could push on quickly with its ambition to change private media ownership toward outlets more favourable to its policies.
The PiS and EU have been divided on climate change and migration, in addition to democracy issues.
Rifts are likely to be evident this week when EU leaders discuss the bloc’s long-term budget, with Brussels facing growing calls for funding to be made conditional on respect for the rule of law.
The European Commission did not immediately comment on the election outcome. One EU country swiftly welcomed Duda’s re-election – Hungary, another right-wing nationalist voice in central Europe.
“The international liberal mainstream once again tried everything but the central European right wing is up 3:0,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Facebook, referring to recent conservative triumphs in Croatia, which is an EU member state, and Serbia, which is not in the EU.
Trzaskowski had said that, if elected, he would seek a more tolerant Poland and abolish state news channel, which critics say gave overt support to Duda in its programming.
“The public broadcaster was used as a campaign tool for the incumbent,” said Thomas Boserup, Head of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) special election assessment mission. “This is the clearest misuse of public resources we have seen in this election.”
To many religious conservatives in predominantly Catholic Poland, Trzaskowski came to represent the threats facing traditional values when he pledged to introduce education about LGBT rights in Warsaw schools.
Many members of the LGBT community fear discrimination under a second term of the Duda presidency.
“We feel powerless,” said Dawid Mycek, 35, a LGBT activist and Youtuber. “This is the first presidential campaign I know, which was based on hate, hate speech and dividing Poles.”