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Conservative Polish president wins second term after tight race

Incumbent President Andrzej Duda addresses supporters in Pultusk, Poland, on Sunday.
(Associated Press)

Poland’s conservative President Andrzej Duda, 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 European Union, which has struggled to halt an erosion of rule of law in Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

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.

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

The close race reflected the deep cultural divisions in this EU nation.

It followed a bitter campaign dominated by issues of culture in which the government, state media and the influential Catholic Church all mobilized in support of Duda, a social conservative.

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Duda, who is backed by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, campaigned on traditional values and social spending in this mostly Catholic nation as he sought a second five-year term.

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 Warsaw mayor, signed a tolerance declaration for LGBT people that triggered a nationwide backlash. The ruling party denounced LGBT rights as a foreign import that threatens Polish identity, and many municipalities declared themselves to be “LGBT free.”

The European Union has denounced the anti-gay rhetoric and gestures and some officials have called for EU funding to be denied to the communities that declared themselves to be “LGBT free,” mostly a symbolic gesture but one that has caused gay and lesbian Poles to live in fear.

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Duda’s campaign also cast Trzaskowski as someone who would sell out Polish families 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.


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