WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s conservative president, Andrzej Duda, promised Monday to protect traditional Polish values against LGBTQ rights after a first-round presidential election that gave him the most votes but forced him into a runoff.
Duda’s immediate return to a theme that he has raised frequently during his campaign was an indication that he is heading into a tight runoff with Warsaw’s centrist mayor by seeking to win the votes of those on the far right, not the political center.
Nearly complete results from Sunday’s balloting show that Duda, who is backed by the populist ruling Law and Justice party, won nearly 44% of the votes.
In second place was Rafal Trzaskowski, the pro-European Union mayor, with slightly over 30%.
The two will face each other in a July 12 runoff that is shaping up as a suspenseful standoff between two 48-year-old politicians who represent opposing sides of a bitter cultural divide.
Whether or not Duda wins will determine whether Law and Justice will keep its near-monopoly on power. Over the past five years the party has taken control of the country’s judicial system in a way that the EU has denounced as violating democratic values.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the election, said that it was professionally run. But it also said that public TV broadcaster “became a campaign tool for the incumbent, while some reporting had clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”
“The campaign itself was characterised by negative rhetoric by the leading candidates that further aggravated the already confrontational atmosphere,” the OSCE said in a statement. “Inflammatory language by the incumbent and his campaign was at times xenophobic and homophobic.”
While Trzaskowski trailed Duda on Sunday, in a runoff he would likely gain many voters from the nine other candidates who have now been eliminated, including a progressive Catholic independent, Szymon Holownia, who won nearly 14%.
Up for grabs will also be the nearly 7% of votes that went to a far-right candidate, Krzysztof Bosak.
On state radio Monday morning, Duda stressed how his values line up with those of Bosak, calling same-sex marriage “alien” and depicting Trzaskowski as “left-wing.”
Earlier this month, Duda said the LGBTQ rights movement promotes a viewpoint more dangerous than communism. Despite street protests in Poland and criticism from the EU, Duda appeared to be returning to that theme, though with slightly toned-down language.
He said “ideological materials” must be kept out of schools and said that any pro-LGBTQ materials in school would remind him of his childhood, when the communist regime taught children one ideology and children learned something else in their homes.
Trzaskowski’s program calls for allowing same-sex civil partnerships but not marriage, and he has largely avoided the issue on the campaign trail.
He, too, has sought to win some of Bosak’s voters by stressing their shared free-market views.
Bosak is a lawmaker with the party Confederation, which entered parliament for the first time last year on a program that is anti-American and anti-EU and opposes LGBTQ rights.
The party’s pro-market positions have won over some libertarians who oppose Law and Justice’s strong involvement in the economy.
Marek Migalski, a commentator and EU lawmaker, wrote on the right-wing Do Rzeczy news site that he expects Bosak’s voters to be “neutralized” in the runoff. He argued some won’t vote, some will back Duda and some will “tactically” vote for Trzaskowski to weaken Law and Justice, which Confederation sees as a rival conservative and nationalist force.
Further complicating the bid for Bosak’s voters is that they are not a uniform block.
Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw, said support for Bosak does not necessarily reflect the level of support for far-right radicalism in Poland because of the way Bosak avoided radical public statements during the president campaign.
“He presented himself as a well-groomed, nice gentleman in a suit, appealing to many that way,” she said.
Duda’s support reflects the popularity he has among many older and rural Poles for Law and Justice’s mix of social conservatism and generous welfare spending.
“I am sure that we can build here a land of milk and honey,” Duda told voters Sunday night in Strzelce, a village in central Poland.
“A country that will also be safe, free of terrorist threats, without all that is often the bane of Western Europe, a country based on tradition, on its tested values,” Duda said.
Poland’s state electoral commission announced the results of the election Monday based on a count of nearly 99.8% of all votes.