Polish Presidential Election Postponed
Due to COVID-19 shutdowns and disruption in the state affairs of Poland, the past few months have been extremely tumultuous for Polish politics. Most notably, the 2020 Polish Presidential Election, which was originally supposed to be held in early May, became a great source of backlash both between political parties and within Polish communities (Ciobanu, 2020). While Poland officially announced the rescheduled date of the 2020 Polish Presidential Election to be June 28, the events that unfolded leading up to the cancelled May 10 election date signaled major discord within Polish democracy (Aljazeera, 2020).
The controversy with the Polish elections began in early April, when the current governing Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, or PiS) party proposed a bill entailing a switch to mail-in postal voting for the upcoming Presidential election (Grzymala-Busse, 2020). Because of social distancing measures, in person ballot voting would not have been feasible in May, and the government needed to present a viable and fair alternative for elections. However, since the incumbent President Andrzej Duda’s bid for re-election was by the PiS party, an election held in May via mail-in ballot ensured the greatest chances for Duda’s success (Grzymala-Busse, 2020). Polls in early May indicated that Duda had a popular backing of 63% of voters for the first round, but these same polls indicated that this figure would drop almost 20% if the elections took place in later months such as June or July (Murray, 2020).
The opposition parties classified the PiS postal ballot proposal as an antidemocratic manipulation. As the economic losses from coronavirus restrictions become more apparent in the summer months, voters will be less likely to support the current president and more open to the other candidates (Walker, 2020). Instead, opposition parties called for a declaration of a “state of natural disaster,” which is a constitutional provision that allows the government to postpone the elections until August (Ciobanu, 2020). The opposition parties and political experts believed the PiS government was attempting to circumvent the constitution by deciding matters of the election without the approval of the Supreme Court. Furthermore, local officials and governments were concerned about the legality and security of the ballot law, citing data privacy and fraud concerns (Grzymala-Busse, 2020).
The actions of the Law and Justice (PiS) party were also condemned by nine former Polish prime ministers and presidents, including former President Lech Walęsa, who will be lecturing on our Changing Tides of History: Cruising the Baltic Sea tour next August 1 -10. In a joint statement, the group urged voters in late April to boycott the May elections if held by ballot vote and stated, “The procedure of voting by post in this form and time, as is proposed by the ruling [Law and Justice] party, are pseudo-elections” (Plucinska, 2020). The PiS Party has been heavily criticized for their justice reforms in the past few years, and thus, the election controversy highlights a problematic behavior characterizing the PiS where judicial institutions are overruled in favor of political interests (Ciobanu, 2020). The decision to postpone the election until June 28 has staved off further criticisms for now, but the later date now makes it more difficult for the PiS to guarantee success of its candidate. Likewise, the playing field for Poland’s six running candidates has evened out, and it is yet to be seen how much further COVID-19 will affect political sentiments within Poland.
Aljazeera. 2020. “Poland picks new date for rescheduled presidential election.” Aljazeera, June 3, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/poland-picks-date-rescheduled-presidential-election-200603110921460.html
Ciobanu, Claudia. 2020. “Polish Election Antics Show ‘Collapse of Democracy.’” Reporting Democracy, May 11, 2020. https://balkaninsight.com/2020/05/11/polish-election-antics-show-collapse-of-democracy/
Plucinska, Joanna. 2020. “Former Polish presidents, PMs call for presidential election boycott.” Reuters, April 30, 2020.
Grzymala-Busse, Anna. 2020. “Poland’s presidential election just got more complicated.” Washington Post, May 8, 2020.
Murray, Andy. 2020. “Poland's uncertain presidential elections: What you need to know.” CGTN, May 5, 2020. https://newseu.cgtn.com/news/2020-05-05/Poland-s-uncertain-presidential-elections-What-you-need-to-know-QegvSTIB2w/index.html
Walker, Shaun. 2020. “Poland holds ghost election with 0% turnout.” The Guardian, May 11, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/11/poland-holds-ghost-election-with-0-turnout