In early April, the Polish governing Law and Justice (PiS) party managed to push measures through the lower house and passed a law introducing postal voting in the presidential elections, which are due to take place on May 10.
However, law experts consider the postal vote as unconstitutional, because according to the constitution, election law changes must be made at least six months in advance before the election. Although the new regulation has yet to be approved by the upper house, where the opposition has a majority, the government has already started printing ballots.
Nevertheless, PiS says the date of the election is dictated by the country’s constitution and postal voting would not pose any health risk during the coronavirus pandemic. On the other hand, the opposition claims that holding elections during a global pandemic is undemocratic, because while President Andrzej Duda has extraordinary visibility in the media, other candidates have been forced to suspend the campaign due to restrictions on movement. Therefore, the Civic Platform, Poland’s main opposition party, calls for the election to be postponed for a year.
Critics have suspected that the conservative ruling party insists on holding the presidential election, as polls show their candidate Duda is strongly favoured to win now but could lose support during a post-pandemic economic downturn. As the president has the power to veto laws, PiS needs the incumbent President Andrzej Duda to win a second term to complete controversial justice reforms.
An opinion poll by the European Council for Foreign Relations think-tank showed Duda capturing 65% of the vote. Moreover, none of the runners-up would reach double digits. This may also be the reason why the Polish government has not declared a state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic. Such a move would bring about a constitutional restriction of citizens’ rights and freedoms but would also require a postponement of the presidential election. Furthermore, a poll conducted by Kantar showed that almost three-quarters of Poles are against the May presidential election, 80% of the voters of the democratic opposition will not take part in elections that will be conducted by post and only 29% of Poles say they would vote.
Meanwhile, a Polish prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek even filed a motion to investigate the decision to hold a presidential election during a pandemic due to a threat to public health, however, a few hours after the case had opened, her superior cancelled the case without explanation and ordered disciplinary action against her.
Hence, it is still unclear to what extent government agencies will be able to organize postal voting for more than 30 million people for the first time in history in less than a month, and it is already likely that thousands of Poles abroad will not be able to vote, as the ballot will most likely not arrive on time. Critics of the postal vote during the pandemic, such as EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova, have already raised concerns about the transparency and fairness of such a vote.
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Author: Barbora Krasová
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