Poland’s main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO) has announced that it will seek to have Sunday’s presidential election voided by the Supreme Court. The vote was “neither equal, nor fair, nor did it meet democratic standards,” says PO’s leader.
Today’s announcement contrasts to earlier comments by the campaign team of losing election candidate Rafał Trzaskowski, a deputy leader of PO. They had called for legal protests against aspects of the election, but said they were not looking to challenge the overall result.
According to official results published on Monday night, conservative incumbent Andrzej Duda was reelected on Sunday with 51.03% of the vote while the centrist Trzaskowski got 48.97% – a winning margin of 422,385 votes.
“We cannot make up half a million votes,” said one of Trzaskowski’s aides on Tuesday with regard to election protests. Yesterday, another of PO’s deputy leaders, Tomasz Siemoniak, said the party “recognises the election result”.
Yet today, PO’s leader, Borys Budka, presented a different line. “We demand that the election be annulled,” he told broadcaster TVN24, saying that the contest “was not fair”.
“Even if the act of voting is correctly conducted, the circumstances, [such as] the use of public funds, the engagement of the so-called public media, caused the situation to be unequal,” explained Budka.
He was referring in particular to the manner in which state television – which is publicly funded and statutorily obliged to be balanced – was used to support Duda’s re-election and attack Trzaskowski.
Observers from the OSCE pointed out in their reports on both rounds of the election that the “public broadcaster failed in its duty to offer balanced and impartial coverage”.
“Instead, it acted as a campaign vehicle for the incumbent and frequently portrayed his main challenger as a threat to Polish values and national interests,” noted the OSCE.
This kind of state support for President Duda meant that he was campaigning “on steroids” (na dopingu), said Budka today. “Poles were robbed of real elections.”
This afternoon, after PO had filed its election protests at the Supreme Court, opposition MP Barbara Nowacka announced that they had also alleged violations of the constitution regarding the manner in which the vote was organised.
She noted that a number of leading constitutional scholars have expressed doubts as to whether the election met the constitutional requirement of an “equal and universal” vote.
In response to the opposition’s claims, government spokesman Piotr Muller, speaking to Polskie Radio, admitted that “in any organisational process errors [can] occur”.
“If there were any mistakes in the [electoral] process, conclusions should be drawn from them, but they do not affect the result of the election, because the margin between the candidates is too great,” said Muller, quoted by Polska Times.
Muller also responded to questions over the role that the prime minister played in supporting the president’s campaign. He said that such activity was separate from the premier’s official duties, and was financed from Duda’s campaign budget.
Deputy prime minister Jadwiga Emilewicz said she also “does not see any grounds for annulling the election”.
There have been concerns over the validity of legislation introduced to enable the election to take place after an initially scheduled vote on 10 May was voided amid the coronavirus pandemic. But Emilewicz insists that “everything happened in accordance with the law in very difficult conditions”.
However, a former chief justice of the Constitutional Tribunal, Jerzy Stępień, yesterday told TOK FM that he believes “there are grounds to invalidate the election”.
As of midday today, 164 electoral complaints had been lodged with the Supreme Court, reports TOK FM. The deadline to directly submit protests to the Supreme Court’s clerk was 4 p.m. today, or midnight for those posted or delivered to consulates.
Previously, election protests could be filed to the Supreme Court within 14 days of the official election result being announced. However, under legislation passed by PiS and signed by Duda in early June, that period was reduced to three days. Stępień believes that that change in itself could be one of the grounds for challenging the validity of the election.
To date, most complaints have concerned delayed deliveries of ballots and voter registration issues, reports RMF 24. Some of the record number of Poles seeking to vote from abroad – most of whom had to do so by post – complained of being unable to register or of receiving ballots too late.
There has also been a complaint about the staff at one voting commission reading names and phone numbers of registered voters out loud as they picked up their ballots. Another complaint concerned a lack of the official stamp on voting cards, which is necessary for the vote to be considered valid.
Onet has also reported this week that Trzaskowski’s team will submit a complaint about campaign financing. After the originally planned election on 10 May was abandoned, legislation enabling a new vote allowed candidates from the previous campaign to carry funds over to the new one. That left Trzaskowski, who was a new candidate, at a financial disadvantage to Duda.
The Supreme Court has 21 days from the official release of results to rule on whether the vote was valid, by considering electoral protests and the report by the National Electoral Commission (PKW).
The final call will be made by the Supreme Court’s chamber of extraordinary control and public affairs. That chamber, and its power to oversee elections, was introduced by PiS as part of its contested overhaul of the judiciary. The judges that sit on it were nominated by another body reformed by the PiS, the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS).
The Supreme Court itself, in a ruling last year, found that the KRS is “not an impartial and independent body”. President Duda has since then, however, appointed a new chief justice of the Supreme Court. She is from among the judges nominated by the reformed KRS. A European Court of Justice ruling on the legitimacy of those judges is still pending.
Last year, however, the chamber of extraordinary control and public affairs defied claims of being under PiS’s political influence by rejecting a series of protests by the party relating to October’s Senate elections. As a result of those decisions, the upper house of parliament remained in opposition hands.
Main image credit: Platforma Obywatelska/Twitter
Maria Wilczek is deputy editor of Notes from Poland. She also contributes regularly to The Economist and Al Jazeera, and has also written for The Times, Politico Europe, The Spectator and Gazeta Wyborcza.