Polish president leads in knife-edge vote: exit poll
President Andrzej Duda was ahead by a tiny margin in Poland's presidential election against his europhile rival but the result is too close to call, an exit poll on Sunday showed, keeping the country in suspense into the night.
Duda, a right-wing populist and close ally of US President Donald Trump, was on 50.4 percent in the poll by Ipsos published just after polls closed at 1900 GMT.
Duda's rival, liberal Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who has promised to heal ties with Brussels by rolling back a controversial reform of the judiciary, was shown just behind on 49.6 percent.
The result of the vote will be decisive for the governing party, which is accused by critics of eroding hard-won democratic freedoms just three decades after the end of communist rule.
Wojciech, a 59-year-old builder who declined to give his surname, said he chose Duda because his close ties to Trump meant Poland "can count on the US for defence".
He also said he "agrees completely" with Duda's promise to ban adoption for same-sex couples.
"It's important for there to be calm and good cooperation with our European partners," Warsaw pensioner Danuta Lutecka told AFP after casting her ballot in Warsaw's leafy Mokotow district.
She said she had chosen Trzaskowski hoping for "less hate, less division" among Poles.
Duda's support is strong in rural areas and small towns and the east of the country, while Trzaskowski performed well in larger cities and western regions on the border with Germany.
Long, snaking queues formed at polling stations as social distancing measures were used to stem infections.
Voters also had to wear masks, use hand sanitiser and their own pens, plus give priority to pensioners, pregnant women and voters with children.
The election had been due to be held in May but was delayed because of the pandemic.
Duda's support has slipped considerably since then, partly because of the virus fallout, which is pushing Poland into its first recession since communism fell.
The incumbent won round one on June 28 with 43.5 percent against 10 challengers, including Trzaskowski who came second with 30.4 percent and has campaigned hard to sway voters who backed other opposition candidates.
Duda promises to defend highly popular social welfare payments introduced by the Law and Justice (PiS) party government and has led a polarising campaign, attacking LGBT rights and ruling out certain Jewish wartime compensation claims.
Ahead of the vote, PiS Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro characterised it as "a clash of two visions of Poland, the white-red and rainbow-coloured," referring to the colours of Poland's national flag and the symbol most widely used by the LGBT community.
The PiS party government has also lashed out at German-owned media outlets, accusing them of "bias" during the campaign after a tabloid owned by the Ringier Axel Springer Group published a story about Duda pardoning a paedophile.
Trzaskowski promises a very different Poland.
He supports allowing same-sex civil partnerships in Poland and his support for gay rights last year unleashed a protest by mostly southeastern regions which declared themselves "LGBT-free".
"This election will determine Poland's fate for the foreseeable future," said Adam Strzembosz, a former Supreme Court chief justice and respected legal authority.
"Will it be dominated and completely subservient to a certain political party, with all the consequences of power that is dictatorial in nature? Or will we manage to stop this?"