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Polish President Wins 2nd Term         07/13 06:31

   

   WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Polish President Andrzej Duda, a conservative who ran 
a campaign with homophobic and anti-Semitic overtones, narrowly won a second 
five-year term in a bitterly fought weekend election, defeating the liberal 
Warsaw mayor, according to a near-complete count of votes.

   Duda's supporters celebrated what they saw as a clear mandate from voters 
for him and the right-wing ruling party that backs him, Law and Justice, to 
continue on a path that has reduced poverty but raised concerns that democracy 
is under threat.

   Critics and human rights groups expressed concerns that Duda's victory would 
boost illiberal tendencies not only at home but also within the EU, which has 
struggled to halt an erosion of rule of law in Hungary under Prime Minister 
Viktor Orban.

   Orban on Monday posted a picture of himself on Facebook shaking hands with 
Duda in the Hungarian parliament with "Bravo!" and graphics of a hand showing a 
"V" for victory and a Polish flag.

   Zselyke Csaky, an expert on central Europe with the human rights group 
Freedom House, said Duda's victory gives the party "essentially free rein" 
until parliamentary elections in 2023 "to do away with limits on its power and 
work towards destroying Poland's independent institutions, such as the 
judiciary or the media."

   The state electoral commission said Duda had 51.21% of the vote based on a 
count of votes from 99.97% districts. His opponent, Rafal Trzaskowski, trailed 
with 48.79% of the vote.

   Final results, expected later Monday, could vary slightly, but Duda's lead 
appeared unassailable.

   The very close race reflected the deep cultural divisions in this European 
Union nation.

   It followed a bitter campaign dominated by issues of culture in which the 
government, state media and the influential Roman Catholic Church all mobilized 
in support of Duda, a social conservative, and sought to stoke fears of Jews, 
LGBT people and Germans.

   Duda also got an apparent endorsement from U.S. President Donald Trump with 
a last-minute White House invitation in late June. Trump praised Duda, saying: 
"He's doing a terrific job. The people of Poland think the world of him."

   Duda's campaign focused on defending traditional family values in the 
predominantly Catholic nation of 38 million people, and on preserving social 
spending policies.

   The party's policies include hugely popular monthly cash bonuses of 500 
zlotys ($125) per child to all families irrespective of income. They have 
helped alleviate poverty in rural regions, and given all families more money to 
spend.

   Duda and the party, both in power since 2015, also solidified support among 
older Poles by lowering the retirement age and introducing a yearly cash bonus 
called a "13th pension."

   Many credit Law and Justice for making good on promises to reduce the 
economic inequality that came with the country's transition from communism to a 
market economy three decades ago. There is a strong sense among them that the 
economic help is restoring a sense of dignity to their lives after many decades 
of hardship caused by war, communism and the economic dislocations of 
capitalism.

   The party has also stoked conflict with the EU with laws that have given it 
vast new powers over the top courts and judicial bodies. Officials in Brussels 
have repeatedly expressed concerns over the rule of law in both Poland and 
Hungary, which were for many years hailed as the most successful new 
democracies to emerge from behind the Iron Curtain.

   Poland's populist politicians have in the past two years frequently used 
rhetoric discriminating against LGBT people and other minorities, and the party 
has turned public television into a propaganda tool used during the campaign to 
praise Duda and cast Trzaskowski in a bad light.

   Sunday's vote was originally planned for May but was delayed by the 
coronavirus pandemic. Turnout was very high at 68.1%, close to a record set in 
1995, in a sign of the huge stakes for Poles on both sides of the divide.

   Trzaskowski, a former European Parliament lawmaker who jumped into the race 
late, said he wanted to protect the country's democratic values and unite the 
divided society, while preserving the popular welfare policies. He represented 
the centrist opposition Civic Platform party, which was in power in from 2007 
to 2015. It oversaw strong economic growth but is now blamed by many for 
allowing the gap to grow between the rich and poor.

   As the race became tighter in recent weeks, Duda turned further to the right 
in search of votes. He seized on gay rights as a key theme, denouncing the LGBT 
rights movement as an "ideology" worse than communism.

   Trzaskowski, as mayor, had signed a tolerance declaration for LGBT people in 
his city that triggered a nationwide backlash last year. The ruling party 
leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, denounced LGBT rights as a foreign import that 
threatens Polish identity.

   The EU has denounced the anti-gay rhetoric and some EU officials have called 
for funding to be denied to communities that declared themselves to be "LGBT 
free" --- mostly a symbolic gesture with no legal meaning but which has 
triggered fear among gays and lesbians.

   Duda's campaign also cast Trzaskowski as someone who would sell out Polish 
interests to Jewish interests, tapping into old anti-Semitic tropes in a 
country that was home to Europe's largest Jewish community before it was 
decimated by Germany in the Holocaust.

   Kaczynski seized on Trzaskowski having said in the past that Poland should 
still be open to Jewish demands to be compensated for pre-World War II property 
that was seized from them by the Germans and later the communists.

   He said last week it made one question if Trzaskowski really had a "Polish 
soul" and a "Polish heart."

   Duda also lashed out at a German correspondent and a partly German-owned 
tabloid for their campaign coverage, alleging there had been "a German attack 
in these elections."

   The Foreign Ministry last week summoned Germany's top diplomat to complain 
about the coverage, while Germany's government insisted that it wasn't seeking 
to influence the elections or the work of a free media.

 
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