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Poland To Hold Presidential Election On June 28


On Sunday, Poland will hold its presidential election. The two frontrunners are the incumbent nationalist president and the young, progressive mayor of Warsaw. As Rob Schmitz reports, the stakes are high.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: There's a joke in Poland that, in a democracy, you know when elections will take place, but you don't know who's going to win. In a dictatorship, you don't know when the elections will take place, but you know who's going to win.

PAWEL TOKARSKI: And Poland is a very specific case because you have no idea when the elections are going to be organized, and you have no idea who is going to win.

SCHMITZ: Pawel Tokarski is senior associate at the German Institute for International Security Affairs. Poland's election was supposed to happen on May 10, but the country's ruling coalition, led by the far-right Law and Justice Party, postponed it at the last minute, waiting nearly a month to reschedule it for this Sunday.

TOKARSKI: This is a very awkward situation. And this whole political gymnastics is severely undermining the seriousness of the electoral process.

SCHMITZ: The resulting electoral chaos prompted Poland's main opposition party, the Civic Platform, to ditch a candidate who was polling in the single digits for Rafal Trzaskowski, the popular progressive mayor of Warsaw.


RAFAL TRZASKOWSKI: (Non-English language spoken).


SCHMITZ: At a campaign rally last weekend, Trzaskowski promised to restore legitimacy to the presidency. His supporters say incumbent President Andrzej Duda has overseen a systematic dismantling of Poland's judicial system and its free press, chipping away at the pillars of the country's democracy. Political scientist Kai-Olaf Lang says Trzaskowski's late entrance into the presidential race has reenergized the opposition to Duda.

KAI-OLAF LANG: He is relatively young. He has brought fresh wind to Polish politics.

SCHMITZ: However, Lang says Trzaskowski will need to win over Poland's conservative base in order to have a chance against Duda. Duda's not making that easy.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much, everyone. Please. Thank you. Beautiful day in the Rose Garden.

SCHMITZ: On Wednesday, Duda was the first foreign leader President Trump has met with since the coronavirus outbreak.


TRUMP: And it's my honor to have a friend of mine here, President Duda of Poland, who has done an incredible job. And I do believe he has an election coming up. And I do believe he'll be very successful.

SCHMITZ: During Duda's visit, Trump announced that the U.S. would be sending some of the 10,000 troops he's pulling out of Germany to Poland.

JACEK KUCHARCZYK: It's obviously an attempt to - yes - to influence the outcome of the elections in a very direct way.

SCHMITZ: Jacek Kucharczyk is president of the Institute of Public Affairs, one of Poland's largest think tanks. He says Duda's trip to the White House on the eve of an election is a last-minute exercise in damage control for a candidate whose hard-line nationalist policies have been popular with rural Poles but have turned the EU against the country, and he says, will lead to economic problems ahead.

KUCHARCZYK: They are aware that the hard times are coming and the presidential election now is their last chance to maintain the control of the key institutions.

SCHMITZ: Duda and Trzaskowski are in a close race ahead of Sunday's vote, making a runoff in July a probable outcome. Kucharczyk says Poland's democracy is at stake. If Trzaskowski wins, it means he'll have the power to veto ruling party Law and Justice's far-right policies. But if Duda wins...

KUCHARCZYK: That means that they will have practically unchecked power for the next couple of years, during very difficult period that's coming for them.

SCHMITZ: We don't know to what extent, but the crisis, he says, is already here. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.

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