USA

Trump ally Duda declared winner of Poland's closely-run presidential race

Warsaw, Poland (CNN)Poland's incumbent President Andrzej Duda has been declared the winner of this weekend's tightly fought and divisive election.

Duda, backed by the nationalist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, won with 51.21% of the vote, the country's election committee said Monday. The more liberal Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, of the center-right opposition Civic Platform party (PO), garnered 48.79%.

His victory will be seen by PiS as a validation of the populist policies it has pursued since coming to power in 2015. Critics worry the win gives the government a blank check to continue its controversial reforms, including the reshaping of the judiciary.

Voter turnout was more than 68%, according to the committee, the highest Poland has seen in 25 years for a presidential poll.

Duda initially declared victory on Sunday, but the Warsaw mayor refused to accept defeat, saying exit polls showed the election was still too close to call. By Monday morning, more than 99% of the votes had been counted, and the election committee's chairman said any additional votes would not change the outcome.

Election issues

During campaigning, Duda sought to mobilize his more conservative, largely rural base with appeals to traditional Catholic values and a promise to maintain popular social welfare policies, such as a child allowance and lower pension age.

His focus on the issue of LGBTQ rights -- at one point describing them as an "ideology" worse than Soviet-era communism -- highlighted the deep cultural divisions in this Central European nation of 38 million people.

Duda's reelection may help the PiS consolidate power after losing control of Poland's upper house, the Senate, to the opposition in parliamentary elections last October. Its ruling coalition still narrowly controls the lower house, the Sejm.

The government's radical reforms to the courts and stance on LGBTQ issues, supported by Duda, have already put Poland on a collision course with the European Union.

But with Duda in the presidency for another term, the PiS -- led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski -- is likely to continue on the same path.

Duda has built close ties with US President Donald Trump since welcoming him to Warsaw in 2017. He received a boost from Trump last month, when he became the first foreign leader to visit the White House after months of coronavirus lockdown.

Trump has suggested that some of the US troops he plans to withdraw from Germany may head to Poland.

Global impact

The outcome of the election could reverberate beyond Poland.

The country is a major beneficiary of EU funding and the bloc as an institution is popular with Poles. A Pew Research Center poll published last October found that 84% of those surveyed in Poland had a favorable opinion of the European Union.

But if the Polish government moves further to weaken the rule of law, in the view of EU leaders, its position in the bloc could be damaged.

The European Commission has already launched several infringement procedures, including Article 7, over Poland's radical reforms to the judiciary, which the PiS insists are necessary to root out corruption.

In campaigning, Duda argued that the very close cooperation between president and government was in the interests of Poland and should continue.

Trzaskowski told CNN before the election Poland needed a "balance of power where the president of the Republic can cooperate with the government as needed, for instance when it comes to restoring good relations with the European Union, but who is ready veto legislation for instance that meddles with the rule of law."

Poland should again be a constructive member of the European Union rather than being marginalized, he said.

"That's why it is very important to restore good relations with our closest neighbors. And, you know, we have the same goals, even with this conservative government when it comes to security, when it comes to our relations with Russia, with our Eastern neighbors. But we just have to be strong and influential and that's the goal for the president of the Republic."

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