Poles to vote on June 28 in presidential election delayed by virus


Warsaw (AFP)

Poland will vote on June 28 in a presidential election delayed by the coronavirus, the parliament speaker announced Wednesday, as opinion polls suggested a liberal opposition candidate could oust the government-backed incumbent.

President Andrzej Duda, long considered the hands-down election favourite, appeared this week to be losing support as the economic hardship triggered by the coronavirus lockdown began to bite.

Backed by the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, 48-year-old Duda might even lose to liberal candidate and current Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, also 48, according to the latest opinion polls.

"I'm calling the presidential election... for Sunday, June 28," Parliament speaker Elzbieta Witek told reporters on Wednesday.

This was the date floated last week by her political ally, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful leader of the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party -- and widely regarded as Poland's de facto decision-maker.

Originally scheduled for May 10, the vote was pushed back at the last minute by Kaczynski because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Trzaskowski is a latecomer to the race, and must collect 100,000 signatures backing his candidacy within the next seven days.

Duda and eight other candidates have been allowed to use the public backing and registrations they secured for the postponed May 10 ballot.

A run-off will likely be held on July 12 as no contender is expected to win more than 50 percent support for an outright first-round victory.

- Rule of law -

The PiS government and the liberal opposition had spent weeks locked in stalemate over how to proceed with the ballot, arguing over issues ranging from health and practical concerns to constitutional and democratic questions.

The impasse was resolved on Tuesday when parliament adopted rules allowing both postal and conventional voting to mitigate the risk of infection during the pandemic.

Poland, a country of 38 million people with limited coronavirus testing, has so far recorded 24,545 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and registered 1,102 deaths.

Opposition parties initially rejected PiS moves to introduce a postal ballot during the pandemic, insisting that the constitution required voting rules to be changed six months ahead of voting day.

Experts warned on Wednesday that despite government and opposition backing for the voting rules adopted on Tuesday, they may be subject to legal challenges that could undermine the legitimacy of the ballot.

"There will certainly be an avalanche of election protests and we'll see how the Supreme Court will settle them," Warsaw University law professor Marcin Matczak told local media.

The controversy surrounding the election comes within the broader context of long-standing EU concerns about democratic standards in Poland.

The European Commission has launched four infringement procedures against PiS-authored judicial reforms, which it says test democracy and the rule of law by undermining judicial independence.