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Poland FINALLY postpones its presidential vote amidst Covid pandemic. But what was the big rush in the first place?

Poland FINALLY postpones its presidential vote amidst Covid pandemic. But what was the big rush in the first place?
Poland has postponed the presidential vote which was due to take place Sunday. Now they tell us there’s going to be a postal vote instead, but nobody knows when. It’s nothing short of an international embarrassment.

Have you heard the one about the EU country –in the 21st Century, no less– desperately wanting to organize a postal vote for its presidential election with only days to go before the polls? I nearly fell off my seat with laughter when I heard that, but it’s no joking matter.

After failing in their bid to force the election to go ahead on May 10, Polish MPs have instead just rushed through a new law to allow the presidential vote to be held by postal vote – but haven’t stamped a date on it. The Polish government could only vaguely say that it nowwould most likely happen” in the summer. 

With the country in lockdown mode because of coronavirus, the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party had been insisting up until Wednesday night that the election absolutely had to go ahead this month. Much to the chagrin of the opposition, the government had claimed the Polish constitution stated the election must be held in May – which certainly sounded absurd, given the coronavirus pandemic has torn up any rulebooks in the rest of the Western world.

Law and Justice –an ultra-conservative Christian party that has come under fire in the past for “undermining democracy”– eventually succumbed to pressure to declare a state of emergency, which now makes it legally sound to postpone the election. But why wait until the 11th hour to act? Particularly when government officials were even publicly acknowledgingthe election cannot be pulled off” this weekend.

It was starting to turn into an international embarrassment too, with all of Poland’s ex-presidents and several prime ministers jointly planning to boycott what they called a “pseudo-election.” Several international watchdogs had also voiced their concerns about a rushed postal ballot taking place on Sunday.

The real reason the Polish government had been hell-bent on the elections taking place now was because they feared their candidate, incumbent Andrzej Duda could lose his strong lead if it were postponed. They now fear a backlash from irate voters –and I’d say that’s now a case of when,rather than if– over the Covid-19 pandemic torpedoing the local economy, which had been relatively robust up until the crisis.

The Eurosceptic Duda –who dislikes the label and insists he’s a so-called “Euro-realist” (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean)– had an unfair advantage over his rivals who have been unable to canvass, while he has been appearing on state TV as frequently as Donald Trump on US networks. Even the public media has been criticized for “failing to fulfil their tasks envisaged for the presidential campaign, giving much more airtime to one of the candidates – Andrzej Duda,” according to the Commissioner for Human Rights of Poland, Adam Bodnar.

Duda is doing his utmost to paint himself and his party as the heroes of the day, but everything could go pear-shaped for them the longer it all drags out. As the old adage goes, you shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch, and all that. But if I was a betting man, I’d say Duda is still the strongest candidate – thanks to the support of the state broadcaster, and the public media fawning all over him, too. But his lead should hopefully be significantly cut if or when the other candidates actually get a chance to properly campaign and set out their stall on national media.

I studied electoral systems –first-past-the-post versus proportional representation, and all that jazz– as part of my MA in political communication and I’ve always been uncomfortable with the postal vote system, because it doesn’t always deliver. It is vulnerable to rigging at the best of times – especially with multiple voting and false registration, as discussed here. Another example of electoral fraud is what happened in Manchester during the 2004 European elections “all postal” vote.

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I would be even more worried about it happening in Poland now given the PiS-led government has weakened the judiciary system because it “bars judges from judicial appointments made by the president and forbids them from engaging in political activity,” as the New York Times reported.

With all this in mind, the only solution is to bring in an outside, independent arbitrator to monitor the election.

Before anyone launches a social media attack here to start accusing me of being anti-Polish or such nonsense, I’d like to point out I’d lived in Krakow back in the late 1990s and my daughter is half-Polish. I adore the beautiful country – having traveled widely across it – and its food and culture, and studied the language.

Even as someone coming from Catholic Ireland, Poland always felt much more Catholic than my home country. But I had always presumed it would eventually lean towards becoming a progressive country with a strong UK Labour Party-style value belief system and not towards a regressive, far-right-wing mentality, as is evident today.

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As a journalist, I certainly wouldn’t want to live there now, probably under an air of paranoia, with the government wanting to “repolonize” its media, with much alarming talk of limiting foreign-owned media outlets, or bringing them under Polish control – which has led to accusations that it wants to “muzzle the press”. I sometimes wonder if the PiS won’t be happy until Poland does a complete 180 degrees turn to become a totalitarian regime.

Under PiS, Poland is fast turning into a joke without a punchline. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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