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POLAND: Electoral and Judiciary Reforms

Last week the Parliament completed one of the most important sessions of the current calendar year. They laws which passed include the draft amendment bill on the electoral law, voted by the Sejm, and the draft judiciary bills voted by the Senate. The judiciary reform bills will now have to be signed at the discretion of President Andrzej Duda. Amendments to the bill proposal were discussed to the last minute. Prior to voting on the electoral law, the Sejm introduced a number of changes to the original proposal. Consequently the following changes will be introduced to system of local elections in Poland:

  • The current term of the Polish Electoral Commission (PKW) will end after the 2019 Parliamentary elections. After that, a new system of appointing members to the PKW will be implemented (7/9 members chosen by the Sejm).
  • Redefining the “X” symbol used to mark choices on the ballot paper, as at least two intersecting lines. No markings made by the voter on the ballot paper will account for the validity of the vote.
  • The term for local governments will be extended to 5 years.
  • Presidents, Mayors, and Commune Administrators will be restricted to 2 terms in office.
  • 100 Election Commissioners will be will be appointed by the PKW prior to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
  • Single Member Constituencies will remain only for elections to local councils, in municipalities under 20 thousand inhabitants.
  • Voting by mail will no longer be allowed.

The draft electoral law passed by the Sejm will now be discussed by the Senate, which has the prerogative to introduce further amendments before it takes a vote.

Similarly to the the judiciary reforms, this draft bill proposed by PiS was met with a certain degree of criticism. Opposition parties continue to accuse PiS of trying to takeover the local governments, while representatives of the PKW, which is responsible for conducting elections, are concerned whether they will remain democratic.

For PiS, this bill is part of a larger package of reforms including those of the judiciary. The PSL party has historically been that of choice in most rural areas, and this trend, to some extent remains today. Cases of Presidents and Mayors, who served in office for 3 or more terms are also increasingly common. Many voters chose candidates who already proved their ability to govern the city, town or municipality. It is clear that many of the proposed amendments are designed to help PiS candidates in overcoming these unfavourable trends, hence increasing their chance at being elected. On top of this, PiS previously had reservations to the legality of some elections, and accused the then-ruling PO and the PKW of manipulating the votes. Hence, the changes in the process of appointing PKW members.

Still, it is worth noting that the current system also has a number of flaws. The key factors which will determine how the elections are conducted are: impartiality of the newly elected PKW members; and the interpretation of the newly amended laws.The package of reforms introduced by PiS, which are currently undergoing the final stages of the legislative process are probably the last major projects to be introduced during this year. It is likely that further projects, which could spike controversies, will not follow until the 2019 parliamentary elections. Currently, PiS is boasting extraordinary high polls, and in conjunction with appointing Prime Minister Morawiecki, it is fair to assume that the government will now concentrate on securing the support of businesses and middle class voters.