Poland's incumbent president Andrzej Duda won the first round comfortably. — VNA/AFP Photo
WARSAW — Right wing populist and Trump ally Andrzej Duda led by a narrow margin against his europhile challenger in Poland's presidential election, an exit poll indicated early on Monday.
Incumbent Duda scored 51.0 percent in the third and final exit poll by Ipsos whose margin of error was one percentage point.
His 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 with 49.0 per cent.
Earlier exit polls had indicated smaller, too-close-to-call differences.
The final tally put turnout at a very high 67.9 percent, which suggests the official figure could end up being a record for the EU member.
"I'm happy with my victory, albeit an exit poll one for now," Duda, who was flanked by his wife and daughter, told supporters waving red-and-white Polish flags and chanting "Long Live Poland!"
Trzaskowski told his supporters late Sunday: "The result has probably never been so close in Polish history, we've never felt the power in our vote so much."
The result will be decisive for the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is accused by critics of eroding hard-won democratic freedoms just three decades after the end of communist rule.
'A Poland divided'
Duda's support is strong in rural areas and small towns and in the east of the country, while Trzaskowski has performed well in larger cities and western regions on the border with Germany.
"The result of these elections is a Poland divided in two with a not-so-rosy future, as it will be difficult to ease the division and to restore the relationship between the two sides," analyst Kazimierz Kik said.
Experts said the close result could lead to legal challenges.
Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a Warsaw University political scientist, said: "I think there will certainly be electoral protests and I think the whole issue will end up in the Supreme Court."
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".
But Warsaw pensioner Danuta Lutecka told AFP that "it's important for there to be calm and good cooperation with our European partners".
She said she had chosen Trzaskowski, hoping for "less hate, less division" among Poles.
White-red vs rainbow
The election had been due to be held in May but was delayed because of the pandemic. Its fallout is pushing Poland into its first recession.
The incumbent won round one on June 28 with 43.5 per cent against 10 challengers, including Trzaskowski who came in second with 30.4 per cent and had campaigned hard to sway voters who backed other opposition candidates.
Duda promises to defend highly popular social welfare payments introduced by the PiS 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.
Trzaskowski 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". – AFP