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Poland’s Presidential Race Is Down To The Wire

Incumbent Andrzej Duda is no longer coasting to re-election. Has the pandemic ripped up the right-wing populist playbook?

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A man pushes a stroller past campaign posters of Warsaw Mayor and candidate in Poland's presidential election, Rafal Trzaskowski and of President Andrzej Duda on July 9, 2020 in Raciaz, Poland, ahead of the July 12, 2020 presidential election.
A man pushes a stroller past campaign posters of Warsaw Mayor and candidate in Poland's presidential election, Rafal Trzaskowski and of President Andrzej Duda on July 9, 2020 in Raciaz, Poland, ahead of the July 12, 2020 presidential election.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Poland’s presidential race enters its final days, the mayor of Seoul is found dead, and the United Nations Security Council votes on Syria aid.

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Poland’s Race Is Too Close To Call

Polish President Andrzej Duda faces off against his liberal opponent Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski this Sunday in one of the first tests of right-wing populism in the age of coronavirus.

Polls show the race is too close to call with the most recent one showing Trzaskowski winning 50.6 percent of votes to Duda’s 49.4 percent.

A Trzaskowski victory on Sunday would represent a consolidation of support for those opposed to the rule of the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS). The Warsaw mayor only managed to win 30.5 percent of votes in the first round of voting on June 28 but may gain support from those who backed other opposition candidates and from Polish expat voters, who have recently registered in large numbers. On a practical level, it would allow him to veto legislation from the PiS-controlled parliament.

Where a Trzaskowski win would leave Poland’s ties with the United States is less clear. Trump has shown an affinity for Duda, making him the first visitor to the White House since the coronavirus pandemic began. If the less nationalistic Trzaskowski wins, it could dilute the White House’s interest in deepening its relationship.

A familiar trick. As the race entered its final week, Duda has leaned on a tactic familiar to U.S. readers: culture war. On Monday, Duda proposed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex couples from adopting children. It follows his remarks that the movement for LGBTQ rights is an “ideology” worse than communism earlier in the campaign.

And an old one. Duda has tapped into nationalism, too. While attacking a tabloid for publishing a negative story about him, Duda suggested that the newspaper’s German owners were responsible for the hostility shown toward him.

A party “cog” versus a “youthful enigma.” Writing in Foreign Policy before the first round of the election, Dariusz Kalan charted the diverging paths Duda and Trzaskowski, both 48, have taken to get to this point. Kalan suggested that the challenger could repeat history. “In many ways, Trzaskowski is now who Duda was five years ago: a youthful enigma challenging a strong incumbent while promising to unite the nation,” Kalan wrote.

What We’re Following Today

Seoul mayor found dead. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was found dead in the city just days after a secretary in his office filed a police report alleging that he had been sexually harassing her since 2017. Park had been touted as a potential successor to President Moon Jae-in and had built a career as an outspoken defender of women’s rights. If his death is ruled a suicide, he would be the third high-ranking South Korean official to take his life over the past 11 years: former President Roh Moo-hyun killed himself in 2009 and liberal politician Roh Hoe-chan followed in 2018. Both had faced corruption charges.

U.N. Security Council votes on Syrian aid. A U.N. mandate to deliver aid across the Turkish border into Syria expires today, and so the U.N. Security Council will vote on a resolution put forward by Germany and Belgium to extend it by six months. An earlier amendment to the resolution put forward by Russia would have reduced the number of border crossing points from two to one; it was rejected by the council on Thursday. Permanent members Russia and China argue that cross-border aid is unnecessary and can be managed by Syrian government authorities.

Singapore votes. Singaporeans go to the polls today in the first general election in Southeast Asia since the coronavirus pandemic began. The People’s Action Party (PAP) is expected to win comfortably, although the margin of victory should provide an insight into how happy citizens are with the PAP, which has held power since 1965. The famously strict nation has put special controls in place to mitigate the spread of coronavirus on election day. Voters have been assigned a two-hour slot in which to cast their vote to reduce overcrowding; older voters are given priority in the morning hours; and patients infected with COVID-19 or quarantining at home are not allowed to vote.

U.S. sanctions Chinese officials over Uighur treatment. The United States imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials on Thursday over alleged abuse of China’s Uighur minority in Xinjiang. Xinjiang’s Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of China’s Politburo, was among those sanctioned and is the highest profile official to be targeted so far. The move represents a shift in strategy from the White House: In June, U.S. President Donald Trump admitted to Axios that he had held off sanctioning Chinese officials connected with Xinjiang for fear of jeopardizing a U.S.-China trade deal.

Biden would review Germany troop move. A senior foreign-policy aide for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said that he would review a recent Trump administration decision to remove 9,500 U.S. troops from Germany were Biden to win the presidency in November. Tony Blinken, a former high-ranking State department official, said the campaign has “a profound problem with the substance” of the decision on troop levels and that any move would be part of a broader evaluation of Trump’s actions in office. “We would review all of the decisions that President Trump has taken, including that one,” Blinken said.

Despite promising polls, a Biden victory is by no means a foregone conclusion, FP’s Michael Hirsh writes. Democrats have been here before: “Complacency is their biggest pitfall: Just ask Hillary Clinton,” Hirsh writes.

Keep an Eye On

Asylum seekers meet coronavirus roadblock. The Trump administration has added to its anti-immigration policies by publishing a new rule that would deny asylum seekers entry to the United States if they are deemed a public health risk. The rule would allow U.S. authorities to block immigrants from seeking asylum because of “potential international threats from the spread of pandemics.” The decision would be made at the first level of screening for asylum seekers, not in an immigration court. Jennifer Minear, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the new rule was an attempt to “scapegoat vulnerable people” and that the “real threat of COVID-19 is not outside our nation’s borders but within them.”

Eurozone to add two more countries. Eurozone officials will allow Croatia and Bulgaria to take the preliminary steps necessary before adopting the euro as their national currency, according to Reuters sources. It would be the first addition to the eurozone since Lithuania joined the group in 2015. Once they initiate the process, Croatia and Bulgaria will likely have to wait until 2023 before they would be accepted as full members of the currency alliance.

Ivory Coast president may run again. Ruling party leaders have urged Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara to make a U-turn on his pledge not to stand for a third term following the death of Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, his designated candidate. Ouattara has until a September 1 deadline to decide whether to run again.

Odds and Ends 

New Zealand’s strict coronavirus quarantine rules have come under pressure following three “escapes” from managed isolation facilities in recent days. The most recent breakout involved a man in his 50s who left his quarantine center and cut through a fence in order to visit the nearest liquor store. The man has since been taken into police custody, and authorities conducted a cleaning of the store before it could resume business. The escape follows one by a woman who also left her hotel only to lose her way. She eventually asked a police patrol for directions back to isolation.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn