Poland plans May election despite pandemic

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Polish children with placards supporting President Andrzej DudaImage source, Getty Images
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Even Polish schools have joined in the election campaign

Poland’s lawmakers have voted to ensure its presidential election scheduled for May goes ahead, despite coronavirus.

On the second attempt, the governing nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party managed to push measures through the lower house for a poll conducted wholly by postal vote.

The opposition fears this will unfairly boost the re-election hopes of President Andrzej Duda.

By Monday, Poland had 107 deaths and 4,413 confirmed cases of the virus.

Under Mr Duda, Poland has enacted far-reaching and controversial changes to society, including the judiciary and the media. Opposition leaders fear PiS - which supports the incumbent president - is seeking to ensure his victory to continue this programme.

But PiS rejects all these criticisms. The party insists it is trying to uphold the democratic process.

How will the election take place?

Under the measures narrowly passed on Monday, there will not be any physical polling stations. Instead, all ballots will be delivered by post. Each person will drop their vote in special post boxes in their local area, which will be sent for counting.

This system will be in place for the first round of the vote, scheduled for 10 May, as well as for a potential second round run-off vote on 24 May.

The speaker of the lower house has also won the power to delay the vote, but only to 17 May at the latest.

Image source, Getty Images
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Poland has carried out an extensive disinfection programme

Critics fear postal votes will help spread the coronavirus infection. There are also concerns the Polish postal service cannot organise such a massive logistical effort in a matter of weeks.

But the bigger complaint from the opposition is that the virus prevents candidates from campaigning, and makes a fair election virtually impossible.

Mr Duda is far ahead in the polls. His opponents say he benefits from regular coverage on state television. Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, candidate for the opposition Civic Coalition, tweeted that the PiS was “conducting a coup d'état to ensure full power for the coming years”.

If an opposition candidate won, it could stymie the PiS agenda for change.

Mr Duda and the Senate have to approve the act before it becomes law.

But the Senate can only delay the bill. The president himself meanwhile called the postal vote plan “interesting”, reportedly telling a Facebook question and answer session, "We need these elections."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Under President Andrzej Duda, Poland has enacted wide-ranging changes to its laws and society

What is PiS?

The socially conservative PiS boosted its majority in the lower house in last October’s parliamentary election.

During its time in government, the party has clashed with the EU and the opposition over its reforms to Poland’s judiciary and its stance on gay rights.

In 2018, PiS changed the law so the parliament can pick members of a national council that nominates judges. And new controversial measures passed in December make it easier to dismiss judges who criticise further judicial reforms.

Poland’s Supreme Court has even warned the country may have to leave the EU over the changes.