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Poland's presidential election cancelled with just four days to go

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By Alice Tidey  &  John Paul Ging
Poland's presidential election cancelled with just four days to go
Copyright  AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Poland has postponed its presidential election over fears the country's coronavirus lockdown would prevent voters from participating properly.

The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) had pushed for Sunday's election to go ahead as a postal vote. But opposition parties objected, saying there wasn't time to organise the ballot on such short notice and warned it might not meet democratic standards.

PiS had put legislation forward to hold the postal ballot, which MPs swiftly approved. But the bill was struck down by the opposition-held Senate.

PiS' proposal exacerbated divisions with its coalition partners, contributing to the eventual postponement.

The delay was favoured by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The NGO warned last week that an all-postal vote in May would "dangerously undermine" democracy, warning that the short time frame available to create the infrastructure made it unlikely "that the process will guarantee fairness and transparency".

HRW also stressed that campaigning was halted in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this situation would give PiS-backed incumbent Andrzej Duda "an unfair advantage".

The EU Commission, meanwhile, "reiterated the importance of free and fair presidential elections in Poland, in the context of the coronavirus crisis" during their latest meeting, a spokesperson told reporters on Wednesday.

Cancellation avoids challenge to vote legitimacy

Analyst Pawel Musialek from Warsaw's Jagiellonian Club thinktank told Euronews' Good Morning Europe programme that by cancelling the election, the authorities had pre-empted possible challenges to the legitimacy of the vote.

"I think that this solution is the best one," he said. "Organising this election in May would probably be ruled as invalid by the highest court because of organisational failures.

"Yesterday morning, no one expected that this solution would be put on the table. It's a very important victory for Jaroslaw Gowin, leader of the Political Union Zasoda and coalition partner of Jarosław Kaczyński and PiS. No one thought Gowin could effectively pressurise Kaczyński.

"It's happened and it's a very important victory for Gowin who was under very strong pressure from PiS to have the election in May.

Gowin becomes 'pivotal figure'

"Gowin was successful and this election will probably now be held in the summer," he continued. "I think that's a good solution, as Poland will have more time to organise it in a better way. There will be more time for campaigning by the opposition.

Opposition parties had wanted the government to declare a state of national emergency, which bans the holding of any elections during the emergency period and for 90 days afterwards.

Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics at the University of Sussex, noted that Gowin had been negotiating with the opposition and that distancing himself and his party further from PiS "has made him a pivotal figure in Polish politics".