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World

Polish populists tested as country votes

WARSAW: The future of Poland's populist right-wing government hung in the balance Sunday as Poles voted in round one...

June 29, 2020

WARSAW: The future of Poland's populist right-wing government hung in the balance Sunday as Poles voted in round one of a tight presidential race that was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The frontrunner is incumbent Andrzej Duda, 48, who is seen as a key European ally by US President Donald Trump but whose policies have raised hackles in the European Union.

"This is a decisive time. A lot will really depend on this decision," anti-communist icon Lech Walesa said as he cast his vote in the northern port of Gdansk.

Walesa, who was elected Poland's first democratic president after communism's demise three decades ago, has been a trenchant critic of the current government.

Polls indicate that Duda, backed by the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, will fall short of a majority and there will need to be a run-off on July 12.

Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, a liberal from the Civic Platform (PO) opposition party who has promised to heal ties with Brussels, is predicted to be his rival in the second round.

Turnout was at a record high by 12:00 pm with 24.08 percent having voted compared to 14.61 percent by the same time in the last presidential election in 2015, the national election commission said.

Polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and will close at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT), with an exit poll expected as soon as voting ends.

The campaign has been dominated by concerns over democracy and bread and butter economic issues as Poland faces its first recession since the end of communism because of the pandemic fallout.

Voters in masks were seen waiting in long socially distanced queues at polling stations across the country. "I voted for Trzaskowski of course! Why? For democracy, the judiciary and respect for minorities," said Joanna Ugniewska, 66, after casting her ballot at a polling station in a school in Warsaw city centre.