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POLAND: Future of Presidential Elections

On Tuesday, the PiS party submitted to the Sejm a draft amendment bill on the Electoral Code. The amendment foresees that all citizens will be able to vote by post in the 2020 presidential election. The Minister of State Assets and the Minister of Health will be obliged to determine the methods for delivering ballots from voters to Electoral Commissioners. The State Electoral Committee is supposed to come up with procedures of handling the votes. According to Head of PiS’ parliamentary club Ryszard Terlecki, an amendment will be introduced by the ruling party so that only voting via post will be permitted – that is voting stations will not be open for voters. The bill is likely to undergo works in the parliament today.

The proposal comes after the Sejm passed provisions regarding the postal ballot for citizens over 60 years of age and those under quarantine. The discussion on conducting elections on 10 May is intensifying. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, opposition parties called on the government and President to postpone the elections – this would require the introduction of a constitutional State of Emergency. Now, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this issue has caused divisions within the ruling bloc itself.

The PiS party remains adamant that the elections should take place. However, the position of Jarosław Gowin and his Agreement party clearly differs from that represented by the remainder of the United Right coalition. Deputy PM Gowin has openly spoken in favour of moving the elections to next year. He argued that the government is obliged to do everything in order to secure the health and well-being of citizens. In the case of this epidemic, holding elections would, in his assessment, be risky. Gowin underlined that he will not change his mind although he did not issue an ultimatum.

Still, a final Agreement party decision will be forged shortly before the vote. Commentators are beginning to speculate that Gowin and ministers from his party (e.g. Jadwiga Emilewicz) will be ousted from the government if Agreement does not back the vote and the United Right will lose its parliamentary majority. At the moment, however, this seems unlikely and it is more probable that some kind of compromise will be reached. Other commentators have suggested that the election will be postponed in mid-April in any case but that the ruling party is politicizing the issue to drive the narrative.

The bloc’s leadership met on Wednesday – elections were the main issue on the agenda. While media sources inform that PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński is the motor behind the proposed changes to the electoral code, the opinion of PM Mateusz Morawiecki and Health Minister Łukasz Szumowski may contribute to a final party decision on the matter. Furthermore, recent polls suggest that 70% Poles would prefer elections to be postponed, which may contribute to a shift in the PiS party’s position. Still, the State Electoral Committee will have a significant voice in the organisation of the presidential election. The amendment bill proposed by the ruling party imposes wide-ranging obligations for the PKW. Already there are voices that the PKW may have trouble in finding enough resources and especially volunteers to staff the elections.