Polish Presidential Election: Pandemics and Boycott Threats

Even though most of the world has suspended electoral campaigning in the face of the global pandemic, Poland has so far opted not to change the date for their Presidential elections, scheduled to happen next Sunday, 10 May. Such a (lack of) decision was not reached without controversy and even threats to boycott the election.

Background

The Polish president is directly elected for a five-year term using a two-round system. The incumbent President Andrzej Duda (*-ECR) is ending his first term in office in August. This means that he is eligible to run for a second term under the Polish constitution, which states that residents can serve two consecutive five-year terms. Initially, the election was scheduled to be held on 10 May but now—due to threats related to COVID-19—all candidates except Duda, as well as many constitutional lawyers and politicians, criticise the idea of organising the election under current measures. At the present, the Polish national-conservative government looks nevertheless to be pushing the election through.

As the most recent development, the upper chamber of the Polish parliament, the Senate, voted down to conduct the elections via postal voting. Should a compromise and some sort of agreement not happen, the election—bar for a declaration of emerency—will go forth and the Poles will be heading into the polls next Sunday.

Candidates

Ten candidates collected the 100,000 signatures supporting their candidacy that are needed to participate in the election, but only five of them are supported by at least one party in the lower house of the Polish parliament, the Sejm. The frontrunner candidate and expected winner of the first round is the incumbent President Andrzej Duda, formerly affiliated with the governing Law and Justice party (PiS-ECR). The Polish constitution, however, does not allow Poland’s head of state to be a party member, rendering Duda nominally unaffiliated. Duda is supported by PiS, the Agreement Party (Porozumienie-ECR) and United Poland Party (Solidarna Polska-ECR), which together form the United Right (ZP-ECR) coalition and the Polish government. The government  has a majority in the Sejm, but not in the upper house, the Senate. 

The main opponent of Duda in the election for much of the pre-campaign phase was thought to be Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, a center-right Civic Coalition (KO-EPP) member. Since the beginning of April, however, the support for her candidacy has steadily decreased among the voters. On 29 April, the secretary-general of  Kidawa-Błońska’s party stated that she is “not standing” in presidential elections on 10 May. Further confusing the development, she has refused to officially withdraw her candidacy, as the election could still be postponed, in which case she may stand. In effect Kidawa-Błońska looks to be boycotting the elections, should they be organised on schedule for 10 May, as it progressively looks like.

There are two contenders to take up the mantle of the main opposition candidate after the demise of Kidawa-Błońska. Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, the leader of the centre-right People’s Party (PSL-EPP), is one of them. Polls have regularly indicated that he would battle for advancing into the second round of the election with Duda, in which he could garner votes from the supporters of almost every opposition candidate. The second one is an independent Szymon Hołownia—a journalist, a publicist, and a Christian activist. Hołownia is known for humanitarian activities in both Asian and African countries. During his campaign he focused on “open dialogue with citizens” and transparency. He is also known for hosting the polish edition of Got Talent! on TVN—the biggest private TV broadcaster in Poland. According to polls, he would be a contender with Kosiniak-Kamysz to advance into the second round of the election.

More miscellaneous candidates included in polls are the candidates of centre-left Nowa Lewica (S&D) and left-wing Lewica Razem (*), Robert Biedroń, and right-wing to far-right Confederation Liberty and Independence (KON-NI), Krzysztof Bosak. The other four candidates have a rather small chance to earn more than 1% of vote.

Will the United Right vote to postpone the election?

In the 2019 parliamentary election the United Right government won 235 out of 460 seats in the Sejm and therefore formed a majority. Poland’s former Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin and his party—Agreement—proposed lengthening the president’s term by two years. Shortly after that the Polish Ministry of Health, Łukasz Szumowski, supported the idea, which the Polish opposition parties ultimately and uniformally rejected.

Some analysts suggest that the situation between Gowin and the leader of the Law and Justice party is really tense. The Agreement Party has 18 seats, without which the United Right government would be left without a majority in the lower house of the Polish parliament. The main opposition force—the centre-right Civic Coalition—would want to postpone the election to May 2021, while the centre-left Nowa Lewica would want to postpone them to the first weeks of autumn. The most likely date, if the election is going to be postponed, is either 17 or 23 May 2020. Unfortunately, for now, there are more conspiracy theories than authorised trustworthy information.

After the Senate’s decision on Wednesday night to reject changes—including the possibility of a postal vote—in electoral law, the bill is going to be put to the vote on 6 May in the lower house of parliament, the Sejm. Opposition-friendly media suggests that Jarosław Gowin’s Agreement Party won’t help PiS to implement such changes just a few days before the election. If that happens, the future of the United Right government would be in question.

The situation is currently developing rather fast. Depending on how the Sejm votes later on Wednesday, the election date might be changed onwards from the tentative Sunday. Europe Elects will be providing updates to the developing story in our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Currently it is unsure whether the Presidential election will commence as scheduled on Sunday. Whether the elections are held in May or later in the Autumn, the result of the election does not seem to be in question. The discussion and fierce negotiations surrounding the election and its organisation in the middle of a pandemic have already destabilised the government coalition and hinted of a possibility of a large-scale boycott of an election inside the European Union. In any case, the decision—whatever it is that the Polish Parliament decides in upcoming days—is late, divisive and, for the result of the election, it is inconsequential. For the voters in danger of catching the virus, it is not.

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