Law and Justice submits another change to election legislation to facilitate election in May.
Earlier on Monday Poland’s political scene was shaken by the resignation of Deputy PM Jarosław Gowin who leads the “Agreement” party, a junior partner of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS), He resigned because he has repeatedly spoken out against holding the presidential election in May and refused to support legislation to hold an absentee ballot by post on 10 May.
Most MPs who are members of Agreement, however, backed a procedural motion to have the legislation debated. But in a twist of fate that vote was not carried as a result of a tie of 228 votes each with three abstentions.
Two of those who voted against were “Agreement deputies” and three others abstained. However, it turned out that one of the ruling party’s MP’s vote was mistakenly not recorded and another PiS MP had made a mistake in voting due to having difficulties logging in.
Breaking the log-jam
After a break of five hours the ruling party submitted a new legislative draft. In that draft the Speaker of the Lower House is empowered to change the date of the election during a state of epidemic. But that change must be within the constitutional time limits laid down for electing a President.
This was to achieve two objectives. First of all to enable the Speaker to postpone the election called for 10 May until 17 May. And at the same time to ensure that the expected delay in processing the legislation expected to come from the opposition controlled Senate will not stop the election coming into effect in time for the election to be held. In addition one week’s delay would give the post office the time to make the necessary preparations to make the postal ballot fully operational.
The health minister Łukasz Szumowski has said that he will give his view on the feasibility of holding the election in mid-April. But he has already said that he believes an absentee ballot by post to be relatively safe.
Assuming there are no more accidents in the voting and the PiS proposal for a change in the electoral code is carried and the date of the election put back just 7 days the leader or PiS will have won his battle with both the opposition and Mr Gowin. The pressure will then be on the postal service and those who will have to count the votes to deliver a relatively smooth election in which millions of Poles will want to participate.
Extraordinary measures in extraordinary times. Hard not to see that parliamentary standing orders as well as the principle that the electoral code should not be changed close to an election have had to go by the board.
The ruling party argues that no one knows when an election held in a traditional way could be held and that the country could do without an extended, by God knows how many months, election campaign.
The opposition are outraged, and say that the government is disregarding public health considerations and that a normal election cannot take place when Poland is in lockdown. Clearly they would prefer a much later date when the economic problems caused by the epidemic will really kick in.
The only way to avoid holding an election in May is if the government declares a state of natural disaster or a state of emergency, or if the opposition agrees to a constitutional amendment to allow the president’s term of office to be extended. But the opposition have ruled out supporting any constitutional change, and the government does not feel a state of emergency or natural disaster is required as the legislation on managing epidemics passed by the previous government are sufficient.
A state of natural disaster would have the added disadvantage of making the state liable for compensation for losses of income caused by it. A state of emergency on the other hand would entail giving the government draconian powers for three months, including the power to confiscate property and to censor the media.
Mr Gowin has fallen on his sword as he takes the same view as many mayors and some church leaders. He just does not think it is right to have an election in the middle of a national emergency.
It looks as if he has lost control of “Agreement” most of whose MPs want to remain in the coalition and to keep their government jobs. After a turbulent few days PiS have survived with its majority intact.
However, only time will tell if the electorate will agree with the ruling party that the election should go ahead. And it has to hope for the pandemic to be at least appearing to be easing. Finally, it will also inevitably face opposition protests, maybe even calls for a boycott of the poll and questions from European institutions over the certification of the election by the Supreme Court.