Poland’s Plan to Hold Election in Lockdown Faces Fresh Headwinds

(Bloomberg) -- The Polish government’s plan to hold a presidential election during the coronavirus lockdown is facing growing political and logistical headwinds, sowing confusion just two weeks before the scheduled vote.

Hundreds of local administrations are refusing to cooperate with plans to hold the ballot through an untested postal system only, which has also been criticized by some lawmakers from the ruling coalition. The opposition has called the vote a sham, with dangerous consequences for both the health of voters and the country’s democracy.

“Someone has to tell Poles the truth about the risks involved here,” opposition presidential candidate Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, who suspended her campaign last month, said on Sunday. “May is not a good time for a mail-in pseudo-election.”

She said there was a spike in coronavirus cases in the German state of Bavaria after it held a similar postal election last month. Furthermore, Poland’s parliament still hasn’t passed the rules governing the ballot, raising concern over potential fraud.

The ruling Law & Justice party is refusing to yield, with Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin saying on Friday that Poland faces a choice between a May 10 vote and “paralysis” of the state. Even so, it’s changing rules to allow a delay of several weeks -- if necessary -- to allow more time to work out the logistics of the ballot, which will be carried out mostly by post-office employees.

Law & Justice was forced to defend itself this weekend as confusion about the vote escalated and an opinion survey showed support for the party declining. Nevertheless, its presidential candidate, incumbent Andrzej Duda, is still far ahead of rivals as one of the faces of the government’s relief efforts.

Tabloid Super Express reported that Law & Justice may curb civil liberties further if it’s forced to delay the ballot, a suggestion dismissed by the party.

“All reports of alleged plans to introduce a state of emergency are far-fetched,” party spokeswoman Anita Czerwinska said on Twitter on Saturday.

Pro-government website Wpolityce.pl reported that the opposition may call a vote on changing the lower-house speaker -- who has some sway over the timing of elections -- in a bid to split the ruling coalition. Law & Justice rejected the idea but the discussion revealed how little is certain just 14 days before the vote.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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