News & Analysis

Polish president set for White House trip just four days before election

Polish President Andrzej Duda is hoping to boost his chances of re-election by meeting his US counterpart Donald Trump in Washington next week, just four days before the country holds the first round of its presidential election.

“President Duda’s visit will be the the first by a head of state to the White House since the pandemic began,” his campaign spokesman Adam Bielan told reporters. “Polish-US relations are stronger than ever.”

The two presidents have enjoyed a tight relationship since 2017, when Mr Trump visited Warsaw and delivered a speech on US-European relations to large crowd. Mr Duda has long sought to curry favor with the US president by seeking to name a military base in Poland Fort Trump, and has lobbied hard for the US to station more troops in Poland. In July of last year the two countries agreed a deal that includes provisions for Poland to provide basing and infrastructure for 1,000 American troops, who would be temporarily stationed on a rotational basis.

Most recently, Mr Duda suggested that Poland could host the 10,000 US troops which Mr Trump last week announced would be pulled out of Germany.

The US is now reported to be in “intensive talks” about extending its military presence in Poland, and it is thought that Mr Trump may use next week’s meeting to announce a new deployment, offering Mr Duda, who is backed by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, a massive boost to his re-election bid.

“President Trump and President Duda will discuss further advancing our cooperation on defence, as well as trade, energy, and telecommunications security,” said the White House in a statement.

Mr Duda’s re-election campaign has faltered in recent weeks and has increasingly turned to rhetoric many have called homophobic, promising to “defend children from LGBT ideology” and comparing the LGBT rights agenda to communist dictatorship.

While he is still expected to win the first round of the election on June 28, he is now unlikely to win the 50 per cent of the vote that would automatically see him return to the presidential palace. A second round of voting, almost certainly placing Mr Duda in a two-way battle with erstwhile mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski, is therefore likely. Many opinion polls make Mr Trzaskowski, a liberal backed by Poland’s largest opposition party, Civic Platform, the favourite. A photo-opportunity with Mr Trump, which will be portrayed by most Polish media outlets as an endorsement of Mr Duda, would therefore be highly welcome.

Mr Trump, like all US presidents, remains highly popular in Poland.

On June 17 the 11 presidential candidates – all men – took part in a televised debate in which LGBT rights and migration took top billing. The format, which gave candidates just 60 seconds to answer questions, allowed for little real debate, but a snap poll by state-run TV station station TVP taken immediately after the event revealed that voters viewed Mr Trzaskowski as the most impressive performer. TVP later declared the poll “invalid” because a “stream of 600 bots” voted.

The debate was followed by long interview with Mr Duda, in effect offering him extra time to put his arguments across.

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