Tusk, who was prime minister of Poland from 2007 to 2014, was seen as a politician who could block the right-wing populist drift of the country, which has raised concerns about rule of law. Incumbent Andrzej Duda, who supports the ruling Law and Justice party and has only rarely vetoed the party's laws, faces re-election in the spring of 2020.
Tusk's term at the helm of the European Council ends at the end of this month, which would have given him time to start campaigning. But Tusk, speaking from Brussels, told Polish TV stations on Tuesday that "I will not be a candidate in the next presidential elections," citing the "baggage that I carry from the time that I was prime minister."
The decision leaves opposition forces in Poland without a clear candidate to run against Duda. Tusk is the former leader of the centrist and pro-EU party Civic Platform. As Polish prime minister, Tusk oversaw steady economic growth and helped raise the country's profile internationally — something exemplified by the election of Tusk himself as EU leader.
But his time at the helm also included some unpopular moves, like increasing the retirement age, which the current government has since reversed. There were also some scandals involving members of his government.
The current ruling party, Law and Justice, is a harsh critic of Tusk's, and state TV under that party's control has given him negative coverage. On Monday, the Onet news portal reported that Tusk had carried out private opinion polling to access his chances of success in the election and found the results disappointing.