Analysis: Election date still in doubt

The date of the Polish presidential election is still uncertain. The ruling party is anxious to hold the contest on the last Sunday in June whereas the main opposition party would prefer a later date in July.

Poland failed to hold a presidential election in May as a result of divisions in the ruling party and strong opposition from the Senate and local authorities to the idea of holding the election by postal ballot. The May election was voided and a new electoral process is set to begin.

Held up in the Senate again

However, for an election date to be named legislation is required to enable the election to go ahead in polling stations with the option of postal voting for those who apply for it. That legislation has cleared the Lower House in which the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) has a majority. But, once again, the legislation is being held up in the second chamber, the Senate, which is controlled by the opposition parties.

The State Electoral Commission (PKW) on Wednesday appealed to the politicians to process the legislation so that the election could go ahead in time for the process to be completed by the time the current presidential term ends in early August. For that to happen the election must be held and then its result validated by the Supreme Court.

In order for the election to go ahead the Speaker must choose their date. However for that date to be realisable it must include a schedule which allows for candidates to register, gather the required 100,000 signatures of support and give the PKW the time to set up the election committees that will be responsible for making the election operational and for counting votes in over 20,000 electoral precincts.

The largest opposition party, the Civic Platform (PO) last week changed its presidential candidate and will therefore be required to gather 100,000 signatures, whereas other candidates who were already registered for the May election, according to the draft of the legislation that has cleared the Lower House, will not have to go through the process of verifying support.

The PO has signalled that it wants to have at least 10-14 days to gather the signatures. But it has also intimated, through the Speaker of the Senate Tomasz Grodzki (PO) that it believes all the candidates should have to go through the process of gathering signatures again. The PO is also unhappy at the proposal that the limits for candidates spending on the election be lowered by 50% for the contest to take account of the fact that a shorter campaign will have to be held.

If election can’t be held by August state of emergency beckons

The Senate has until June 10 to process the legislation. If it takes up all of that time and before returning the legislation to the Lower House it will be very difficult for the election to be held in June or even early July. If the election is pushed into late July there would not be enough time for the Supreme Court to validate it and the office of President would become vacant in early August.

In order to avoid a vacancy in the office of President, an unprecedented situation not envisaged in the constitution, the ruling party would have to consider introducing a state of emergency. Such a state of emergency would extend the term of office of the President by the period of the emergency (minimum 90 days) and another 90 days grace period after the emergency ends.

Recriminations on the delayed poll

The ruling camp is irritated about the fact that the delay in the election seems to have benefitted the main opposition PO. It has blamed the opposition controlled Senate for stalling on the legislation to introduce postal ballots back in April. There are also those in the ruling camp who blame the former Deputy PM Jarosław Gowin for having opposed a ballot in May and having forced a compromise by which the election would be held later.

The reality is a little more complicated. It was the Health Minister Łukasz Szumowski who argued that a postal ballot was the safest election method. As a result the ruling party rushed postal ballot legislation through the Lower House which closed the door on having an election held in the traditional way in polling stations. Fearing serious organisational and legal problems with proceeding with an election by postal ballot the ruling party decided that it should be held at a later date by a mix of postal and traditional ballot.