Poland’s incumbent president, Andrzej Duda topped the first round in the presidential election on Sunday, but now faces a run-off against the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski on July 12.
According to Trzaskowski, who is part of the liberal Civic Platform (PO), Polish voters have a stark choice: they must decide between a “Poland that is open” or a leader that “still divides.”
While Duda aims to continue his programme of constitutional reforms, which have put him at odds with the European Union, pro-EU Trzaskowski wants to heal relations with the bloc. The two presidential contenders are also fiercely split on the issue of LGBT rights within the country.
Here’s a look at the life and career of Rafał Trzaskowski.
Born in Warsaw in 1972, Trzaskowski gained degrees at various universities before completing a PhD. He embarked on a career in politics, first becoming an advisor to the PO delegation in the European Parliament, before being elected to the European Parliament himself in 2009.
He then served in Donald Tusk’s government as Minister of Administration and Digitisation from 2013-2014. He won a seat in the Sejm - Poland’s parliament - in the 2015 general election, which PO lost to rivals the Law and Justice Party (PiS). After his party's defeat, he served as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs on the opposition benches.
As an MP, he focused largely on issues to do with foreign affairs, European policy, defence and the protection of civil and minority rights.
In 2018, he was elected Mayor of Warsaw, beating his PiS opponent in a landslide. He introduced a free nursery programme, and upgraded the city’s public transport, buying greener vehicles. His time as mayor has been “the time of investment”, says Ewa Marciniak, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw.
But he also gained nationwide attention for signing a declaration of support for the LGBT community, which has given him “the image of a progressive politician”, she told Euronews.
“Rafał Trzaskowski is well-inscribed in the political landscape of Warsaw. He's urban enough, a metropolitan. This suits Varsovians (Warsaw residents) and those who have been working and living here recently,” she said.
He is known as something of a polyglot, reportedly able to speak English, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish on top of his native Polish.
He has been made a Knight of the Legion of Honour by France.
Since becoming the PO candidate for the presidency, the electoral prospects of Trzaskowski’s party have improved remarkably. His name wasn’t even on the ballot until the election was postponed in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. The original PO candidate, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, stood down amid falling numbers in the opinion polls with Trzaskowski being selected to take her place.
According to an Ipsos projection from Sunday’s vote, Duda won 41.8 per cent of the vote to Trzaskowski's 30.4 per cent.
"If these results are confirmed, we are set for a very tight run-off," Paweł Zerka, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Euronews.
The official results should be released on Wednesday evening after votes sent from abroad are counted.
“Over 58 per cent of our society wanted change and I would like to tell them today that I will be your candidate - the candidate of change,” Trzaskowski told supporters following the first round of voting.
So what would that change look like? Duda’s welfare policies, credited with lifting many older Poles out of poverty, have unsurprisingly proven popular among voters, and Trzaskowski has indicated he will keep these should he become president. The two differ markedly on other issues though.
After Trzaskowski signed the declaration of support for LGBT rights, Duda - pitching to voters on a platform of conservative and religious values - angered activists and supporters of the LGBT community when he promised to protect families from “LGBT ideology,” saying it was more dangerous than communism.
Trzaskowski’s platform includes support for civil unions for same-sex couples, opposition to the tightening of abortion laws and the restoration of state support for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
He has indicated he will cooperate with the government when it makes “rational decisions,” but said, “I will not allow attempts at breaking the constitution or the rule of law.” The European Union has called out the Polish government on reforms it perceives as threats to judicial independence, democratic institutions and fundamental rights.
“Rafał Trzaskowski creates the ideas of new solidarity, small investments, and clean air policy. It shows that people in big and small cities have the same problems. It is a message that shows that it is not ideology that is important, but problem-solving. This gives him a chance for a good result,” Marciniak said.
He is strongly linked with PO’s liberal-left wing, according to Polish news website Notes from Poland. His biggest weakness, the site says, lies beyond the cities, where PiS is appealing to more right-wing traditional values.
In Poland, the president can propose new legislation and can veto laws passed in parliament. The president is also the supreme commander of the armed forces and has a significant role in foreign policy.
Marciniak told Euronews he will cultivate an image of “a moderate politician in the political centre,” which will provide a “reasonable alternative” to Andrzej Duda.