Poland’s presidential elections will be held on 28 June, with a potential second round on 12 July, after the speaker of parliament called a new date today. Her decision followed the passage last night of legislation detailing how the electoral process will work amid this year’s unusual circumstances.
The elections were initially scheduled for 10 May. However, following failed attempts by the government to organise an all-postal vote, and efforts by the opposition to stop the elections from happening at all on that date, they were effectively cancelled, as polling stations stayed closed on the day of the scheduled vote.
The National Electoral Commission (PKW) declared the vote void, necessitating new elections. But the opposition have raised concerns that the rules for the new election are designed to disadvantage their new candidate, Rafał Trzaskowski, who will now have just days to collect 100,000 supporting signatures.
Just before midnight on Monday, the opposition-controlled upper house of parliament, the Senate, passed the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s legislation updating electoral rules. The Senate, however, made a number of amendments to it.
On Tuesday, the legislation was given final approval by the more powerful lower house, the Sejm, where PiS has a majority, but with most of the Senate’s amendments removed. The bill then passed to President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, who signed it into law on Tuesday night.
Z zażenowaniem słucham marszałek @elzbietawitek. W sejmie odrzucono wszystkie merytoryczne poprawki opozycji do tzw. ustawy wyborczej. Premier Morawiecki nie ogłasza uchwały #PKW. Elżbieta Witek nie ogłasza wyborów. I jednocześnie mają pretensje do normalnej pracy w Senacie.
— Borys Budka (@bbudka) May 26, 2020
Among the Senate amendments rejected by the Sejm was a requirement that new candidates standing in the election be allowed at least 10 days to collect the necessary 100,000 supporting signatures from the public.
Candidates who stood in the first, abortive elections have been exempted from having to again collect signatures. However, the main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), have named a new candidate, and they feared that PiS would seek to limit the amount of time he had to gather signatures.
Now, with the new election schedule announced by the Sejm speaker – Elżbieta Witek of PiS – it is confirmed that Trzaskowski will have less than a week to collect the signatures and register his candidacy.
A number of commentators have pointed out that the fact that candidates from the abandoned election do not have to collect signatures again to stand in the new one, as well as being allowed to carry over campaign funds, gives them an unfair advantage over new candidates. This could violate Poland’s constitution, which requires that “the president be elected in equal elections”.
“You constantly want to manipulate these elections, constantly limiting the possibility for opposition candidates to run an election campaign,” said PO MP Marcin Kierwiński, quoted by Dziennik Gazeta Prawna. He claimed that PiS is “afraid of Rafał Trzaskowski”, who has growing support in polls.
The PiS majority in the Sejm also rejected a proposal by the Senate to allow signatures to be collected online using the ePUAP (Electronic Platform of Public Administration Services) system, a state-run platform used to give citizens electronic access to public services.
Under the newly passed legislation, voters will be allowed to cast their ballot either in polling stations or, if they request it, by post instead. However, a Senate amendment that would have extended the opening times of polling stations to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. (two hours longer than normal) was rejected by the Sejm.
Those who wish to vote by post must register a request at least 12 days before the election if they live in Poland, or 15 days if they are voting from abroad. An amendment was also accepted to make voting more accessible for disabled people, including providing material in Braille.
The Senate proposed that those who request postal ballots must confirm receipt of them by signature. This was also rejected by the Sejm, which has decided simply that “after delivery of the package to the mailbox, the user of the mailbox is responsible for it”, reports TVN24.
However, the Sejm did accept a Senate amendment giving the PKW, rather than the health minister, final authority on whether in-person voting should be banned in a given area due to epidemic conditions. The PKW will make such decisions at the request of the health ministry, and in such cases voting will be entirely by post.
After the PiS majority in the Sejm passed the amended legislation on Tuesday afternoon, Duda’s spokesman, Błażej Spychalski, announced just after 9 p.m. that the president had signed the bill into law.
Prezydent @AndrzejDuda podpisał ustawę o szczególnych zasadach organizacji wyborów powszechnych na Prezydenta RP zarządzonych w 2020 roku z możliwością głosowania korespondencyjnego.
— Błażej Spychalski (@spychalski_b) June 2, 2020
With conditions for conducting the election decided, Sejm speaker Witek today announced that, as had been widely anticipated, the first round of the presidential election will take place on 28 June. If no candidate wins more than 50% of votes, a second-round run-off between the two candidates who received the most votes will take place on 12 July, reports Newsweek.
All candidates who wish to stand in the election, both new ones as well as those who stood in the aborted 10 May election, must register with the PKW by Friday this week.
Candidates will then have to provide 100,000 supporting signatures by 10 June – giving new candidates just days to collect them from scratch. They are only legally allowed to begin collecting signatures once they have registered with the electoral commission, who will issue a new template for collecting signatures later today.
Right-wing media have reported evidence that signatures have already started to be collected in support of Trzaskowski, something that would not be permitted.
“If the media reports that Rafał Trzaskowski has already collected 100,000 signatures are true, it would be breaking the law,” said Krzysztof Sobolewski, chairman of PiS’s executive committee. “This would put the Civic Coalition and its leadership in a terrible light.”
PO’s leader, Borys Budka, said that there have been no “formal” efforts to collect signatures. However, he added that he “can’t say whether anyone in Poland is not conducting a spontaneous action” to gather them.
Main image credit: KPRM/Flickr (under public domain)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.