Duda: Polish president loyal to ruling populists

Warsaw (AFP) –


Polish President Andrzej Duda, who has won Sunday's election according to near-complete results, is a loyal ally of the ruling populists.

A second five-year term for the 48-year-old lawyer would improve the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party's chances of moving ahead with its agenda.

Duda has rarely said no to powerful PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and is known for waving through policies including controversial judicial reforms.

"He's a party man, carrying out its orders," said Warsaw-based political analyst Stanislaw Mocek.

The only time Duda broke from the party was in 2017, when he vetoed two judicial reforms that he believed gave too much power to the attorney general, who is also the justice minister.

The surprise veto left the PiS stunned and earned Duda applause from the liberal opposition and the European Union.

- Spiritual heir -

Born in 1972 to a family of professors in the southern city of Krakow, Duda was a choir boy and Boy Scout before earning a law degree from the Jagiellonian University in 1996.

When PiS first came to power in 2005, Duda was named deputy justice minister, a job he gave up in 2008 to become an aide to then president Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw's twin.

A devout Catholic, Duda was close to Lech Kaczynski -- who died in 2010 when his presidential jet crashed in Smolensk, Russia -- and often calls himself his "spiritual heir".

Duda also has the backing of the present-day incarnation of the Solidarity trade union that brought a peaceful end to communism at home in 1989.

He was elected to the Polish parliament in 2011 and the European Parliament in 2014. But he only became well-known after Jaroslaw Kaczynski crowned him presidential candidate.

Duda went on to win the presidential election in May 2015, after promising voters social benefits galore.

- Judicial changes -

Duda is in favour of tightening Poland's anti-abortion law -- already among Europe's most restrictive -- and recently likened "LGBT ideology" to communism, drawing criticism at home and abroad.

On Duda's watch the retirement age for men was lowered from 67 to 65. The PiS also began giving parents a monthly allowance of 500 zloty ($130) for each child.

In terms of foreign policy, Duda has worked on strengthening ties with NATO.

Since he became head of state, the Western defence alliance and the United States have deployed their troops in the region in response to Russia's activity in neighbouring Ukraine.

Just four days before the first round of the election last month, Duda visited US President Donald Trump, the first foreign leader invited to the White House since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Trump lavished praise on his Polish "friend".

Without going so far as to call himself a eurosceptic, Duda has in the past described the European Union as an "imaginary community from which we don't gain much".

Duda's critics fault him for his role in hobbling the Constitutional Court and other judicial institutions.

In 2017, the EU launched unprecedented proceedings against Poland over "systemic threats" to the rule of law that could see its EU voting rights suspended.

An avid skier, Duda is married to German language teacher Agata. They have an adult daughter.