Polish President Andrzej Duda has declared victory in a runoff election in which he narrowly won a second five-year term, acknowledging the campaign he ran was often too harsh as he appealed for unity and forgiveness.
The close race followed a bitter campaign between Mr Duda and Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski that was dominated by cultural issues.
The government, state media and the influential Roman Catholic Church all mobilised in support of Mr Duda and sought to stoke anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia to shore up conservative support.
Mr Duda celebrated what was seen as a mandate 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.
“It was a very sharp campaign, probably too sharp at times,” he told supporters in Odrzywol, a town near Warsaw. “If anyone is offended by my words, please forgive me. And give me the chance to improve in the next five years.”
He received 51.03% of Sunday’s vote, while Mr Trzaskowski got 48.97%, according to final results from the state electoral commission.
Mr Duda told supporters in Odrzywol that he was grateful and moved to winning the support of more than 10 million voters. He said that with the race now over, it is time to turn to the difficult job of returning the country to strong growth after the economic blow of coronavirus.
Mr Trzaskowski conceded defeat and congratulated Mr Duda. He thanked his supporters and said his strong showing would be the catalyst to fight to keep Poland from becoming a one-party state.
“This is just the beginning of the road,” he said.
But Adam Michnik, a prominent anti-communist dissident and the founding editor of the liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, said the result bodes badly for Poland’s young democracy.
“Andrzej Duda’s victory will be understood by his voters, and first of all by those in power, as a permission for the kind of politics that Law and Justice has been pursuing for almost five years, and that is a policy of the destruction of the democratic system, of isolating Poland in Europe, of homophobia, of xenophobia, nationalism and of using the Catholic Church as a tool,” he said.
“I would not even rule out a situation in which, if this policy is continued and we see an attempt on the free media, culture and science, there could be another ‘Maidan’,” he said, referring to the bloody 2014 pro-Europe protests in Ukraine.