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Polish government changes election rules in ‘unconstitutional’ late-night move

Warsaw, Poland – The Polish ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party fast-tracked legislative changes at the last minute in a controversial move made to ensure that the upcoming presidential election will be held as planned.

Polish ruling party changes election rules weeks before presidential ballot

Presented as a last-minute addition to a bill planning an extraordinary 200 billion-zloty economic relief plan to minimize impact of the coronavirus outbreak and shield the Polish economy from recession, the amendment to the electoral code would allow senior citizens, as well as those in quarantine or self-isolating, to use postal voting.

The changes to the electoral rules were passed during an online parliamentary session, tabled by the ruling party at 2.30 am and approved by the PiS-controlled Sejm at 4 am. According to reports, a number of lawmakers from the opposition had trouble logging into the system during the vote.

“This move is completely against the constitution and electoral law”, said Andrzej Zoll, a former head of Poland’s Constitutional Court. “It must be emphasized clearly: six months before the election, no changes can be made”, he added, referring to a 2006 ruling by Poland’s top court.

PiS lawmakers dismissed the accusations of foul play, arguing that the 2006 ruling only applied to “essential elements” of the elections, and that “technical and organizational changes” could still be brought even less than six months before the date.

The electoral changes now have to be approved by the Senate, controlled by the opposition which has already voiced its disapproval of the fast-tracked bill.

Should Poland hold its presidential election as planned?

The first round of the election is supposed to be held on May 10, with a potential run-off two weeks later. Incumbent and PiS candidate Andrzej Duda retains a comfortable lead in the polls.

According to Anna Materska-Sosnowska, quoted by Reuters, Duda would have a clear advantage if elections pressed ahead as planned. “They know full well that in today’s state of shock and crisis, people gravitate towards those in power. However, the effects of their poor management of the crisis will come very quickly and even in autumn, their [PiS’] candidate might not win”.

Critics also argue that holding the presidential election presents a clear public health risk in the current context. Furthermore, while all campaign events have been cancelled as a result of the government’s measures to ban large gatherings in order to curb the spread of coronavirus, opposition politicians say that President Duda, as head of state, remains in the spotlight and has an unfair advantage on all the other opponents.

Despite recent polls showing that a vast majority of Polish voters is in favour of postponing the ballot, the ruling Law and Justice party has so far refused to budge and appears determined to hold the presidential election as planned.