Polish president well ahead for May vote, but criticism rises

By Alan Charlish

WARSAW (Reuters) – President Andrzej Duda, an ally of Poland’s ruling nationalists, is set to win re-election by a landslide in May, two opinion poll showed on Thursday, amid an intensifying dispute over holding the vote during the coronavirus pandemic.

Scheduled for May 10, the election has been the subject of heated political debate in Poland, with critics accusing the Law and Justice (PiS) government of putting political gain ahead of public health in insisting the vote be held as scheduled.

Duda is a PiS ally and his victory is crucial for the government’s hopes of implementing its conservative agenda as the president holds the power to veto laws.

On Thursday one candidate decided to complain to the Supreme Court about a letter from the election commission saying that local authorities would need to share voters’ details with the post office if the election is held by postal ballot.

Critics of a postal vote during the pandemic, such as EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova, have previously raised concerns about the fairness and transparency of such a vote.

PiS says a postal ballot, which it is trying to organise instead of using polling stations, will ensure the election can be held safely, even as its officials say the pandemic has yet to peak in Poland.

Poland has reported 10,511 cases of the coronavirus and 454 deaths.

An opinion poll, conducted on April 2-12 for the European Council for Foreign Relations think tank and published by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, showed Duda capturing 65% of the vote. None of the runners-up would reach double digits, it showed.

The poll showed nearly three-quarters of Poles opposed a May presidential election, with only 29% saying they would vote.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted by Kantar for state-run news agency PAP showed Duda on 59% with his nearest challengers on 7% and Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, the candidate of the main opposition party Civic Platform (PO), on 4%.

Asked about the Kantar survey, PO leader Borys Budka said the result showed opposition voters did not want to take part in a postal vote.

“This survey shows that about 80% of the voters of the democratic opposition will not take part in elections that will be conducted by post … That should give President Duda a lot to think about — does he want to be a president who was not elected legitimately…?”

In an exchange with voters on Facebook, Duda said that he had more confidence in the opinion of Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski, who has said a postal vote would be safe, than he did in the opinions of opposition candidates.

“Most opposition candidates would like to delay the elections, it’s true, for a variety of different reasons, but unfortunately these are mostly political motivations,” he said.

Independent candidate Szymon Holownia decided to file a complaint with the Supreme Court about a letter sent by the National Electoral Commission to local election officials saying that municipal authorities would have to share details of voters with the post office.

“We expect that… local authorities will not be forced to provide access to data until the Supreme Court issues a ruling in this case,” he said in a statement.

A spokesman for the National Electoral Commission told PAP the letter only expressed an opinion and was not a resolution of the commission.

PiS has shrugged off opposition calls to postpone the ballot for a year, arguing it is safeguarding democratic procedures. But it has also given tentative support to an alternative proposal from a junior member of its parliamentary coalition that would give Duda two more years in power via a constitutional amendment.

(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Alan Charlish; Editing by Justyna Pawlak, Hugh Lawson, William Maclean)