Polish MPs permit postal ballot in delayed presidential election

(FILE PHOTO) Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful leader of the governing Law and Justice (PiS).
(FILE PHOTO) Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful leader of the governing Law and Justice (PiS). Kacper Pempel / Reuters

Poland's parliament on Thursday passed legislation paving the way for a presidential election delayed by the coronavirus pandemic to go ahead via a postal ballot, a move the opposition said jeopardised democracy.


It came amid a chaotic week during which voters were left in the dark as to whether they would be able to cast ballots in a presidential election scheduled for Sunday despite an ongoing coronavirus lockdown.

In a last-minute delay, the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party agreed late on Wednesday to postpone the vote after it became clear it would be impossible to hold safely given the pandemic.

The party managed to shore up opposition within its own ranks against the controversial postal ballot with 236 votes in favour, 213 against and 11 abstentions in the 460-seat parliament.

Analysts and the opposition raised the alarm over the PiS approach to postponing the presidential vote, arguing it was out of step with democratic standards.

Although a new election date was not immediately clear, PiS deputy prime minister Jacek Sasin told local media on Thursday that the election could take place as soon as June.

Opinion polls suggest PiS-allied incumbent President Andrzej Duda could capture more than 50 percent of the vote for a first-round victory.

Centrist and leftist opposition parties have rejected any attempt to hold the election via a postal ballot, insisting it could open the door to election fraud.

Borys Budka, leader of the centrist Civic Platform main opposition party, accused the PiS government of "failing" to keep their promise of "equal, free and universal elections and providing (voters with) a postal service instead."

"This absolutely does not guarantee free, fair and democratic elections," he said.

The opposition insists that under the constitution voting rules must be changed at least six months before voting day.

The Pi government has also rejected opposition calls to declare a state of disaster or emergency over the pandemic that would automatically postpone the election.

Under the emergency measures, the ballot could be held 90 days after they are formally called off.

Leftist presidential candidate Robert Biedron called for an independent parliamentary inquiry to investigate the legal chaos surrounding the delayed presidential election and to hold government leaders legally accountable.

"All of this has led to the most serious crisis we have had since 1989," Biedron told reporters Thursday in parliament, referring to the breakthrough year when Poland transitioned from communism to democracy.


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