Opposition leader says Senate will try to block May presidential vote

2020-04-08 11:42 update: 2020-04-08, 20:24
Borys Budka Photo PAP/Wojciech Olkuśnik
Borys Budka Photo PAP/Wojciech Olkuśnik
Poland's ruling party is pressing to hold the presidential ballot in May, seeking the re-election of the incumbent president amid the coronavirus crisis, but the Senate will try to foil their plans, the leader of the main opposition party said on Wednesday.

On Monday, the Sejm (lower house), passed a bill enabling an all-postal vote in the May 10 presidential election, defying criticism from all opposition parties who say the spreading epidemic has crippled campaigning and the elections themselves pose a risk to the health and lives of Poles. 

Under the bill, authored by the ruling party, the conservative Law and Justice (PiS), the elections can be postponed by one week from the currently-set date of May 10, giving PiS more time to prepare the logistics of the postal ballot even if the Senate chooses to use up the maximum period of 30 days for processing the draft legislation that it received on Tuesday, April 7.

Speaking to private TV news channel TVN24, Borys Budka, the leader of the main opposition party Civic Platform (PO), said that the Senate "has taken over responsibility for the health and lives of Poles," describing PiS's plans to go ahead with the election despite the rising infection count as "Jaroslaw Kaczynski's madness."

Kaczynski is the PiS leader. PiS supports the incumbent president, Andrzej Duda, who leads the opinion polls.

Budka also expressed hope that when the amended draft returns to the Sejm, some ruling coalition lawmakers "will turn to the Light Side of the Force."

Asked whether his party will withdraw its own presidential candidate, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, from the election if PiS goes ahead with it regardless, Budka said he can bet that "there will be no elections on May 10." "Should there be some event, it will certainly have nothing in common with democratic, normal elections," he also said.

Budka reiterated the opposition's view that the government should introduce a state of natural disaster that would automatically postpone the presidential elections. "The whole world is doing it, only Poland, only Kaczynski and his people want to force the elections to hold on to power whatever the cost."

On Monday, Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, a PO member, said the Senate will likely need 30 days to work on the draft law.

Grodzki said that the Senate will seek various expert opinions on the draft.

"As has happened many times before, we will have to do the work there was no time for in the Sejm, that is, consult the Ombudsman, the State Electoral Commission, the Supreme Court and other authorities in order to form an opinion on how this legislative act falls within the constitutional requirements saying that voting must be in person by secret ballot," he said.

The bill will first be debated by the legislative and human rights committees and later by plenary session. "We will deal with this act with the utmost care," Grodzki said.

Asked if he wanted to "freeze" the maximum deadline of 30 days, he said he would not call it "freezing". "If necessary, the Senate will use its constitutional and regulatory provisions (to use the maximum of 30 days for consideration of the bill - PAP)," he said.

In Grodzki's opinion, the Sejm "bent" constitutional rules and recommendations of the Constitutional Tribunal saying that no changes to the electoral law may be made in the six months preceding the elections. Additionally, the bill was adopted by an extremely fast procedure even though the proposed legislation is of "fundamental" importance.

The Senate speaker also said that the draft does not specify such issues as the method of delivery and receipt of electoral packages to and from voters who remain in quarantine or are hospitalised. There are also doubts as to the secrecy of the vote, he added.

"It is all difficult to imagine, but the Senate must fulfil its constitutional role and analyse everything," Grodzki said, adding that the upper house will also have to consult epidemiologists and experts on infectious diseases if the ballot is to be held amid the deadly epidemic. (PAP)