Presidential election in poland: democracy at a pig’s gallop

After the botched election in May, Poles are to elect their head of state at the end of June. This vote is also not constitutional.

Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski collects signatures Photo: Kacper Pempel/reuters

"Back to start!" is the motto in Poland after the spectacularly failed presidential election in May 2020. Time is pressing, as President Andrzej Duda’s term ends on August 6. By then, a successor, or Duda again, should have been elected as the candidate of the national populist ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

The new date, June 28, was announced Wednesday by Elzbieta Witek, chairwoman of the Polish Chamber of Deputies. Now Polish voters can expect another political spectacle. This is because the ten candidates now have to clear all the hurdles in the so-called election calendar at a pig’s gallop and can fly off the rails at any time.

Legally, the June election will also be unconstitutional, since the new election law did not come into force at least six months before the next elections either. It was even more blatant in the May election. The new absentee ballot law came into force only two days before the election.

But PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski insisted on the May date, having specially arranged for the election to be organized not by the state election commission but by PiS Interior Minister and Intelligence Coordinator Mariusz Kaminski and PiS Treasury Minister Jacek Sasin.

Dismissal without notice

They, in turn, had contracted with the Post Office to conduct the absentee ballot under Covid-19 conditions, but had not reckoned with the fact that the postal workers were eager to deliver letters, but in no way wanted to take responsibility for the election.

The summary dismissal of the Postmaster General and his replacement by a careerist from the Department of Defense did not make matters better. Word leaked out that postal workers would probably call in sick en masse if they were forced to count the ballots.

Then, in a back room, the two party officials and ordinary deputies Jaroslaw Gowin and Jaroslaw Kaczynski agreed to let Election Day pass on May 10 without a ballot. The Supreme Court would then declare the election invalid, and the PiS would have been able to start anew.

As is so often the case, the devil is in the details: In order to declare the election invalid, voters had to file a protest with the court. But since no one had voted on election day, this avenue remained closed.

Five days’ time

But the State Election Commission had been waiting for its chance, and on the evening of May 10, it announced the election results: "There was no possibility of a vote." The head of the commission said that after this May 10 result was published, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Witek had two weeks to announce the new date for the presidential election.

But Poland’s PiS government took its time. Only on Tuesday did it publish the May election results in the Law Gazette, and on Wednesday Witek announced the new election date. Now Rafal Trzaskowski of the conservative-liberal Civic Platform will have to hurry. As a new candidate, he has five days to collect 100,000 votes of support. If he doesn’t get them in on time, he’s out of the campaign before it’s even started.

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