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Poland celebrates Constitution Day as criticism grows over postal Presidential vote legislation

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Poland celebrates Constitution Day as criticism grows over postal Presidential vote legislation
Copyright  Czarek Sokolowski/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Poland has celebrated one of its most important national dates; the Feast of May 3 marking the proclamation of the Constitution of 1791.

Historians have called it Europe's first modern constitution.

Top politicians including President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attended Constitution Day mass at Warsaw's St. John Cathedral, amidst strict security measures.

All the participants wore face masks and kept a distance of two meters apart from one another.

But the traditional military parade was cancelled due to coronavirus threat.

Poland also celebrated a scaled-down National Flag Day on 2 May due to the coronavirus pandemic, but white and red colours adorned streets, public transportation and buildings.

The largest Polish flag in the country, at 500 square metres, was raised on the lighthouse in Swinoujscie, North-Western Poland.

In Lodz, central Poland, parachuters celebrated National Flag Day, jumping with white-red parachutes.

National Flag Day was established in 2004. It aims to popularise knowledge about Polish identity and national symbols.

The red and white colours were first recognised as national colours on 3 May 1792, on the first anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of 3 May.

They were officially adopted as the colours of the Polish State by the Sejm of the Kingdom of Poland in 1831 during the November Uprising.

The 2 May is also the day of Polish Diaspora and Poles living abroad.

The celebrations come amid controversy over upcoming Presidential elections, scheduled to be held on May 10.

Poland's ruling conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) is pushing for a vote by postal ballot only, driven by the fact that its candidate, President Andrzej Duda, is leading in opinion polls.

It argues that voting by mail is safe.

But it has also empowered the parliamentary speaker to alter the May 10 date.

Opposition politicians argue that it is not safe to hold any vote during a pandemic.

They also argue that opposition candidates are unable to properly campaign and meet with voters due to the restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The European Union and pro-democracy organisations have voiced concerns about whether Poland's first-ever postal election held under anti-coronavirus restrictions will be fully democratic, free and transparent.

I said before that if I were a Polish citizen, I would have many questions, because I would really like to have fair access to voting. I would like to see the candidates campaigning in a fair campaign and I think that these are the questions which should be asked on Polish territory.
Vera Jourova
European Commission Vice President

The lower house of parliament, where the PiS has a majority, has backed a plan to conduct the presidential election on May 10th by postal ballot.

But the legislation still has to be approved by the Senate, which is controlled by the opposition.

The Senate has until May 6 to approve it, reject it, or introduce any changes.

The final say on the legislation is due to take place in the lower house of parliament on May 7.

Last week in an open letter, nine former Polish prime ministers and presidents urged voters to boycott the presidential vote, arguing that holding the ballot by post could be unconstitutional and did not guarantee voter confidentiality.

Opinion polls show fewer than 30% of Poles are likely to cast ballots if the vote is held on May 10 as scheduled.

The proposals also mean that hundreds of thousands of Poles living abroad will not be given the possibility to vote.