Poland Wavers on Holding Lockdown Election This Sunday

(Bloomberg) -- Top Polish government officials signaled the country’s May 10 presidential election may be delayed as criticism intensifies over efforts to hold the vote during the coronavirus lockdown.

International monitors have said the government’s push to go ahead with an untested vote-by-mail is endangering the ballot’s integrity, while opposition parties have effectively ceased campaigning during stay-at-home measures. The outgoing head of the Supreme Court condemned the process as a farce.

Deputy Premier Jacek Sasin, who’s in charge of the preparations, blamed the opposition-controlled Senate for preventing the vote from going ahead as planned. He said the “constitutional time frame” allowed it to be postponed until May 23, signaling a shift in the government’s insistence on holding the first round on Sunday.

“May 10 is a difficult date,” Sasin told private Radio Zet on Monday. “I’m convinced the election will take place before the president’s term ends” on Aug. 6.

Michal Dworczyk, the chief of staff of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, confirmed the change in tone. “It’s very likely that we won’t be able to prepare the ballot for May 10,” he said.

Parliamentary Showdown

The head of the country’s State Election Committee, Sylwester Marciniak, said it was “impossible” to hold the nationwide ballot on May 10, since legislation allowing for solely mail-in ballots hasn’t been approved.

Due to filibustering, the Senate is still discussing the election law, and there are rebels within Law & Justice’s caucus threatening to reject the bill in a final lower house vote expected later this week.

If the lower chamber is unable to approve the rules allowing for exclusively mail-in balloting, the vote would take place as normal via physical polling stations, a system deemed risky because of the Covid-19 crisis. That scenario would likely force the government to intensify Poland’s state of emergency, which would automatically postpone the election.

The government is keen to hold the ballot now. Its candidate, President Andrzej Duda, has become the public face of relief efforts for the party, which has boosted his popularity.

Any rebel lawmakers who planned to vote against the mail-in-ballot process will be considered to have withdrawn from the ruling coalition, according to Sasin. Losing those members, led by former deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, would endanger the government’s five-seat majority in the lower house.

Daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported that Law & Justice has tried to influence those on the fence. Some were promised cushy jobs for family and friends at state-run companies, while others were warned that their relatives could lose public-sector jobs if the bill was rejected, the newspaper said.

“Gowin knows that leaving the governing camp at this time risks him being held responsible for triggering a governing and constitutional crisis,” Aleks Szczerbiak, a professor of politics and European studies at the University of Sussex, wrote in his blog. “It is difficult to see a stable alternative administration emerging in the current parliament.”

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