Polish opposition threatens to block plans for rescheduled election

Leader of the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) rulling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski (C) attends a parliamentary debate in Sejm (lower house) in Warsaw, Poland, 12 May 2020. [Radek Pietruszka/EPA/EFE]

Poland’s main opposition grouping threatened on Tuesday (12 May) to block planning for a delayed presidential election, accusing the ruling coalition of rushing a voting plan through parliament for political gain.

The presidential election had been due to take place on 10 May, but planning for it collapsed at the last minute over rifts within the coalition and with its opponents over how to hold the vote amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Poland’s lower house of parliament, the ruling party-controlled Sejm, voted in favour of the legislation moving to discussion in Poland’s upper house of parliament, the opposition-controlled Senate.

The ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) wants to hold the election as soon as possible, fearing that its ally, President Andrzej Duda, risks losing his leading position in opinion polls as the economic fallout from the pandemic worsens.

“Once again you have shown that you haven’t learnt from your mistakes… you didn’t use the opportunity for us to work together in the Sejm,” Borys Budka, the leader of centrist opposition party Civic Platform (PO), said in parliament just before the vote took place.

The new legislation is unconstitutional as it gives too much power to the PiS-nominated speaker of parliament, Elzbieta Witek, to set the electoral calendar, Jan Grabiec, a spokesman for PO, told Reuters before the Sejm voted in favour of the bill.

PiS blames the Senate for scuppering the 10 May vote as it chose to take the full 30 days permitted to analyse legislation that would have allowed the election to go ahead by postal ballot only.

PO threatened to use the same delaying tactic again in the Senate, demanding amendments to hand more power to the electoral commission to organise the electoral calendar.

PiS needs opposition support to ensure the electoral commission has enough time to organise the vote safely.

Delaying tactics?

“If these changes run counter to the constitution, then I doubt the Senate will accept it at lightning speed, just like with the last proposal… which eventually led to the ruling party’s need to cancel the election,” Grabiec said.

The new PiS legislation seeks to mirror opposition-backed proposals for a “hybrid” election that combines voting in-person and by mail.

But PO said the new rules would still allow PiS to rush through the elections and set a calendar that was favorable to its needs.

Opposition parties have previously called for a months-long delay in the election to allow time for the coronavirus pandemic to be fully brought under control.

On Tuesday, Poland saw its largest spike in new coronavirus cases in one day, totaling 595, as the government seeks to loosen lockdown restrictions to mitigate the pandemic’s negative impact on the economy.

Poland now has 16,921 confirmed coronavirus cases and 839 deaths.

“The governing party’s rush to hold the election as quickly as possible is very dangerous,” Grabiec said.

On Wednesday, Duda, a PiS ally, is expected to meet with the Senate speaker to discuss how to best organize the elections.

The electoral commission on Sunday gave parliamentary speaker Witek 14 days to set a new election date, which must be within 60 days of the announcement.

PiS has said it hopes the election can take place at the end of June or in July.

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