Polish presidential election moved to 28 June

The EURACTIV Network provides you with the latest news on how the country is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis. [Shutterstock]

**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.

Parliament Speaker Elizabeth Witek announced the new date for  Poland’s presidential election would be 28 June, despite it having been initially scheduled for 10 May. Voting will take place in-person in polling stations, although voting by mail will still be permitted for those in isolation or quarantine.

In her speech, Witek also accused the opposition of “only working on how to torpedo these elections”, referring to discussions in the Senate on possibly postponing elections for August, once Andrzej Duda had finished his term. However, such an option would have left his post vacant for several months.

In response, Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki told online portal Onet that “the Senate did its job and improved [the law on presidential elections] to the maximum extent.”

As of Wednesday (3 June), Poland has recorded 24,545 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,102 deaths.

Reopening borders

It is a matter of days, maybe weeks, until Poland reopens borders between the countries of the region Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said on Tuesday (2 June) during a summit of foreign ministers with the Baltic states in Estonia.

Czaputowicz said that everything was “on track” for travel to resume “before the holidays”. He added that experts will have to assess the risks of travelling to neighbouring countries in the near future.

“Our strategies were good and we are now in a better position than other European countries,” he said.

Domestic flights within Poland resumed this week between eight cities.

However, international rail and air connections are still suspended, non-resident foreigners are banned from entry and those permitted to enter – both Polish citizens and foreigners – need to remain in quarantine for two weeks.

Lifting restrictions

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the details of stage three for lifting the country’s anti-coronavirus restrictions. Starting next week, hairdressers, beauty salons and restaurants will start operating normally again, while practical classes taught in post-secondary schools, trade schools, technical schools, as well as extracurricular activities in community centres can start again, National Education Minister, Dariusz Piontkowski, confirmed.

Just a few days away from the supposed presidential elections, Law and Justice (PiS) president Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the leader of the Coalition Agreement Jaroslaw Gowin told viewers during an ongoing presidential debate with the participation of all candidates on national TV that Poland’s presidential elections will not be taking place on 10 May.

Poland implemented its second stage of lifting lockdown restrictions on 4 May, which included the opening of shopping malls and hotels, and the partial opening of cultural institutions (libraries, museums and art galleries).

Starting 6 May, nurseries and kindergartens will be opened, although many municipalities oppose this, questioning whether it remains safe enough to open them at this delicate stage of the pandemic.

Presidential elections

For the time being, it is not known when the new elections will be announced, but under this agreement, the parliament’s lower chamber known as the Sejm adopted a law on correspondence voting, which was rejected by the Senate in its entirety. However, to ensure the date of elections can be moved, which Gowin believes would likely take place somewhere between the end of June and mid-July, the law is also likely to be amended this week.

Already, Poland’s main opposition group threatened on 12 May to block plans for the delayed presidential election, accusing the ruling coalition of rushing a voting plan through parliament for political gain.

Until then Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) seemed determined to hold the presidential elections by postal voting in May, even despite the coronavirus pandemic, a negative Supreme Court opinion, and criticism from the OSCE. Former European Council President Donald Tusk also appealed on 28 April for a boycott of the upcoming election in his native Poland.

Poland’s Supreme Court found on 27 April the amendment to the electoral law proposed by the Law and Justice party (PiS) to be inconsistent with the Constitution and fundamental electoral rights.

The government shifted the responsibility for organising the ballot from the National Electoral Commission (PKW) to the Polish Post, which had provoked concerns about safeguarding privacy as the Post has to collect citizens’ personal data in order to prepare the voters’ lists.

Besides, voting ballots were already being printed. “The act is not enforced yet, but we assume it will be,” said Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin.

State aid for companies accepted by Commission

The European Commission gave its consent on Thursday (23 April) for Polish authorities to grant state aid to companies for the amount of €7.8 billion, as part of the government’s anti-crisis package for entrepreneurs.

Micro-enterprises, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as large companies in difficulties will be able to benefit from direct grants, repayable advances, tax benefits and reliefs, tax deferrals or employee compensation payments.

Meanwhile, the Polish Tourism Organisation is working on a solution to support the tourism industry and is proposing to offer Poles with special holiday vouchers for holidays in Polish hotels who have been affected by the crisis.

Better detection

According to Gowin, 150 000 tests will be produced in the hope of boosting the effectiveness of the detection of new cases, which, in turn, could put the economy back on track faster than expected.

Anticrisis shields

Poland’s government is set to present the third set of measures against the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis by the end of this week. The new “shield” is meant to introduce subsidies for apartment renters, special solutions for local governments and the tourism industry, as well as larger subsidies for employees’ salaries at the largest companies.

News solutions for local governments will include the poviat (district) revenue for state-owned land management being increased from 25 to 50%. Cities will be able to increase their debt this year provided the additional expenses are related to fighting the pandemic.

The Polish government has already introduced the second leg of its “anticrisis shield” with an estimated value of about €2.5 billion, compared to the first one presented on 1 April worth €45 billion to which 340,000 entrepreneurs have so far applied to.

New electoral rules

On Wednesday (1 April), the ruling conservative PiS party introduced new electoral rules as a draft ahead of the presidential elections in May. If approved, it will enter into force next week and ensure every citizen is able to vote by mail.

As the proposed rules would put the organisational burden on the National Electoral Commission (PKW), the former chair of the PKW has already said that these changes have been introduced in bad faith, while many lawyers consider the holding of fair and free elections to be impossible at the moment. 

In protest, Jarosław Gowin, leader of a small coalition party Porozumienie, resigned from the position of deputy PM and minister of science and higher education on Monday (6 April). However, as Porozumienie has enough votes to erase PiS’ majority in parliament, it seems that most Porozumienie MPs will vote together with PiS to allow voting by mail.

As an alternative, Gowin is proposing to amend the constitution to extend the presidential term from five to seven years, a suggestion that needs the unlikely support from opposition parties. 

Stricter restrictions

On Tuesday (31 March), the government tightened security measures as a response to the outbreak of coronavirus, with restrictions extended to include shops.

There can now only be a maximum of 3 people per one active cash register.

“If there are five cash registers, there can be 15 people at a time.” – explained Mateusz Morawiecki. The same restrictions will apply to markets and stalls. Whereas in post offices the limitation is 2 people per one active window.

There will also be shopping hours set aside for specifically for seniors.

State of emergency

Since Friday the state of emergency is officially in force in Poland. Kindergartens, schools and universities will remain closed at least until Easter (13 April).

The penalty for violating the conditions of mandatory quarantine is to be raised from 5000 zlotys (ca 1095 euro) to as much as 30 000 zlotys (ca 6570 euro). There are around 300 violations of mandatory quarantine each day.

“I hope that after Easter it will be possible to change the mode of operations,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

The penalty for breaching the conditions of mandatory quarantine is to be raised from 5,000 PLN (1,095 EUR) to as much as 30,000 PLN (6571 EUR).

“As we see today, the Koreans, Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese are going back to work. This is because they treated the quarantine rules very strictly,” the prime minister argued.

‘Anti-crisis shield’ 1.0

On Wednesday (18 March), Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the creation of a so-called “anti-crisis shield” in connection with the coronavirus pandemic involving a package of actions to support entrepreneurs and employees affected by the crisis.

The total value of the support package is expected to amount to PLN 212 billion (€46,7 billion) which equates to about 9.2% of Poland’s GDP.

Poland’s President Duda called off a meeting with the government’s cabinet on Tuesday (17 March), as some ministers are in isolation waiting for their tests after environment minister Michał Woś had been tested positive on Monday (16 March).

As some ministers are in isolation waiting for their tests after environment minister Michał Woś had been tested positive on Monday (16 March), Poland’s President Duda called off a meeting with the government’s cabinet on Tuesday (17 March).

Extraordinary government decree

With an extraordinary government decree over the weekend (14-15 March), Poland had closed its borders, banned public gatherings of over 50 people and closed shopping malls, the government announced in an extraordinary decree.

While the government banned all passenger flights starting from Sunday (15 March) for 14 days, it also closed the border for the same amount of days and Polish citizens entering the country from abroad will be quarantined for 14 days.

On Wednesday (11 March), Poland already decided to close all schools, universities, kindergartens, cinemas, theatres and art galleries for two weeks in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Restaurants will still be able to offer take-away meals and delivery.

Will elections take place?

Despite the introduction of the state of the epidemic does not mean postponing the elections scheduled for May 10, Morawiecki said on Friday (20 March).

“State of epidemic” doesn’t entail rescheduling elections, unlike the “state of emergency”. However, Polish leadership does not see the reason for rescheduling the vote.

“The presidential election should take place on schedule. In the long term, we may encounter many unforeseen circumstances, e.g. the return of the coronavirus in the autumn,” argued Prime Minister Morawiecki on 18 March.

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