Poland postpones presidential vote amid coronavirus lockdown

President Duda ahead in polls originally set on Sunday but pandemic left uncertainty about voting and his future.

Andrzej Duda
President Andrzej Duda's five-year term expires on August 6 but he is running for re-election [Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo]

The leader of Poland’s governing party and a partner in its governing coalition announced an agreement late on Wednesday to postpone Sunday’s presidential election, without setting a new date for the poll.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, and Jaroslaw Gowin, leader of a small party in the conservative coalition, announced in a joint statement that they had agreed to cancel Sunday’s vote and set a new date.

They called their decision “a solution that will guarantee Poles the opportunity to participate in democratic elections.”

The decision brought some clarity to a chaotic situation that left Poles uncertain about whether they would be casting votes this weekend.

The May 10 date had been set months ago, but the coronavirus pandemic and a government-ordered lockdown threw preparations into disarray.

Bitter fighting between the conservative governing party and its political opponents kept them from agreeing on an alternative.

The governing party had sought to stick to the election date by making it a postal vote, but proper legislation was still not approved. Many in Poland voiced concerns that such a vote organised at short notice might not be conducted property or meet democratic standards for fairness.

Political deadlock

A disagreement between Kaczynski and Gowin had also created a impasse that had threatened to cause an larger political crisis. Their joint statement suggested the crisis had been averted.

Under their plan, after Sunday the Supreme Court will declare the election void because it does not happen, and then parliament Speaker Elzbieta Witek will announce a “new presidential election to be held on the first possible date.”

They did not indicate when that might be.

Under a constitutionally dictated timeline, the last possible date for the presidential election in 2020 would be on May 23. But they said they would amend legislation regulating elections in 2020, which might suggest a later date. The vote will be conducted by postal ballot.

Poland - vote

The Law and Justice party is backing the reelection bid by President Andrzej Duda, whose five-year term expires on August 6. Duda leads in opinion polls, well ahead of the nine other candidates.

Adam Bielan, the campaign spokesman for Duda, told private broadcaster TVN24 that he expected a new election to be held in late June or early July. Other politicians said it could be held as late as the end of July before Duda’s term expires.

The Law and Justice party proposed holding an all-postal vote weeks ago, saying that was the safe option during the pandemic. But the change in balloting methods requires parliamentary approval.

The legislation passed the lower house of parliament last month but the senate took a month to debate it, then rejected it on Tuesday. The bill returned to the lower house, but there was no time left before Sunday to prepare the ballots and have postal workers deliver them to voters.

The head of the electoral commission, Sylwester Marciniak, said on Tuesday that it was “impossible for legal and organisational reasons.”

There had also been concern that the electoral commission was being sidelined in the push for May 10 elections.

Gowin and Kaczynski’s statement said they agreed the electoral commission would organise the future vote.

One constitutional expert said Wednesday’s announcement appeared to contradict constitutional provisions in Poland for changing election dates.

“It’s astounding,” Ryszard Piotrowski of Warsaw University said. “How can you imagine in a democratic country that politicians decide what the Supreme Court will rule.”

Source: News Agencies