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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Incumbent President Andrzej Duda led by a wafer-thin margin in Poland’s presidential runoff election on Sunday night, an exit poll showed.
If confirmed by official results, Mr Duda and nationalist governing allies, the Law and Justice Party, will have a mandate and more time to turn Poland from a nation hailed as a model of post-communist change to one battling EU values.
But Mr Duda’s lead, 50.4 per cent over 49.6 per cent for Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, was still within the margin of error of the exit poll, which is two percentage points.
The survey by the Ipsos pollster did not take into account the sizeable vote by Poles living abroad that may favour socially liberal Mr Trzaskowski.
It is the tightest Polish election contest since 1989. Partial results are expected overnight and final figures will probably be available by Tuesday.
"I want to thank everyone that voted for me," Mr Duda told supporters shortly after the exit poll was announced.
If Mr Duda wins, it will allow the government to continue its path away from the European mainstream and toward its centralisation of power.
Law and Justice has said it wants to overhaul private media and complete its contested revamp of the court system, which have led to EU lawsuits for failing to uphold the rule of law.
“This result would mean that Poland will remain a warrior against EU values,” said Andrzej Rychard, a sociology professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences.
“This means a continuation of institutional changes, even though the civic society opposition has also strengthened.”
Just days before the run-off, Poland’s de-facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who leads Law and Justice, returned to plans to revamp the media.
Mr Kaczynski supports more government control over the sector, which his party has criticised because some broadcasters have German owners.
Mr Duda looked likely to win a second term as recently as early May but his campaign suffered a blow as measures to tackle the pandemic set Poland towards its first economic recession in three decades.
More than 1,500 people have died from Covid-19 in Poland and the country has recorded nearly 38,000 cases.
Mr Duda responded with familiar Law and Justice tactics, demonising gay people, pledging to defend traditional family values, attacking private media and accusing Germany of meddling in the election.
He is also opposed to abortion.
Mr Duda received a big boost from public TV, which election monitors at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said “failed in its legal duty to provide balanced and impartial coverage”.
It said public TV stations also played on xenophobic and anti-Semitic themes. Mr Duda also is opposed to abortion.
Mr Trzaskowski, who rose quickly in polls in May, became the Mayor of Warsaw in 2018.
"Everything is in your hands," he said on Friday. "This is really at your fingertips.
"I want to tell you it's 'now or never' because this Law and Justice road roller will try to run over everything and the next election could be very difficult."
In the first round of voting last month, Mr Duda came out on top but was short of the 50 per cent needed to win outright.
The vote was originally scheduled for May but was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Updated: July 13, 2020 12:38 AM
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