President Andrzej Duda came out on top by a razor-thin margin in Poland's presidential runoff election, according to an exit poll.
If confirmed by official results, Sunday's runoff ballot will give Duda and nationalist governing allies, the Law & Justice Party, a mandate and more time to transform Poland from a nation hailed as a model of post-communist change to one battling against European Union values.
But Duda's lead -- 50.4% over 49.6% for Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski -- was still within the margin of error of the exit poll. The survey by the IPSOS pollster also didn't take into account the sizable vote by Poles living abroad that may favor the Warsaw mayor. Partial results are expected overnight and final figures are likely due by Tuesday.
A Duda victory would allow the government to continue its path away from the European mainstream and toward its centralization of power. Law & Justice has said it wants to overhaul private media and complete its contested revamp of the court system, which have triggered 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 runoff Poland's de-facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who heads Law & Justice, returned to plans to revamp the media. He supports more government control over the sector, which his party has criticized as some broadcasters have German owners.
Poland can't allow this "part of our national nervous system to remain in foreign hands," he said.
Duda was cruising for re-election as recently as in early May, but his campaign took a hit as measures to tackle the pandemic put Poland on the path toward its first economic recession in three decades.
The president responded with familiar Law & Justice tactics. He demonized gay people, vowed to defend traditional family values, attacked private media and accused Germany of meddling in the election.
He received a big boost from public television, which according to international election monitors at the OECD "failed in its legal duty to provide balanced and impartial coverage," while playing on xenophobic and anti-Semitic themes.
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