Poland Moves to Force Its First Election by Mail Amid Lockdown

(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s ruling party is pushing ahead with a plan to force the nation to hold an election by mail for the first time ever, steamrolling over calls to delay the May 10 presidential ballot as the country remains in lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers of the Law & Justice party approved the measure in the lower house of parliament late Monday. The upper chamber, controlled by the opposition, is expected to slow the process, but the government can override objections -- meaning the changes could become law just a few days before the election.

The increasingly authoritarian government is betting that turning to an untried method of voting will help its ally Andrzej Duda remain president for another five years, with the lockdown having kept the opposition from campaigning. The last-minute changes and the uncertainty over the process also increase the risk of fraud, according to Poland’s human rights commissioner.

Duda, who’s taken on a role as the leader of he virus defense in the European Union country of 38 million people, has surged in opinion polls. His challengers -- left to raise faint objections about the economic response -- have become mostly invisible.

Poland Moves to Force Its First Election by Mail Amid Lockdown

Other European nations, including Serbia, North Macedonia and Romania, have already pushed back elections originally scheduled for the nearest months. Russian President Vladimir Putin has delayed a referendum that would let him rule until 2036. France held a vote for local administrations, as did the German state of Bavaria.

The upper house said it would use the full 30 days it has to debate the legislation, meaning it would send the draft law back to the lower house -- which can override any amendments -- just days before the election is due.

With the legislation not fully approved, authorities can’t start printing ballots or launch other preparations. The state-run post service’s 27,000 delivery personnel will have just days to ensure ballots reach 30 million Poles eligible for the vote.

“In any vote by mail, special care must be taken to protect against possible fraud and abuse,” human-rights ombudsman Adam Bodnar said in an interview. “Such diligence is difficult if such a fundamental change is to be made literally on the eve of the election.”

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