Jan Cienski in Warsaw -
There is no Polish equivalent of “hanging chad”, so Poles are going to have to come up with their own term to describe the enormous mess that has resulted from the collapse of voter tabulation systems following Sunday's local elections.
On Thursday, dozens of rightwing activists stormed the headquarters of the country's electoral commission to chants of “They faked the vote!” and demanded that new elections be held.
Earlier, the head of the National Electoral Office, the body in charge of the mechanics of running Polish elections, resigned, accepting responsibility for the problems that have dogged the vote count. Adding to the problems of election officials, hackers apparently broke into the electoral commission's computer system earlier this week.
“The failure of the computer system which was supposed to help electoral officials calculate the results of the voting … did not fulfil the expectations of the political class and of society,” wrote Kazimierz Czaplicki, one of the designers of Poland's post-communist voting system, in his resignation letter.
Two party leaders, Leszek Miller of the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance, and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, of the rightwing Law and Justice party, have formed an unusual alliance to call for a new election.
“No-one can save this result,” Miller said earlier this week, arguing that problems with the vote count, as well as the unusually large number of spoiled ballots, meant that Sunday's vote was invalid.
The elections were for country's 16 regional legislatures, as well as mayors and city councils. While almost all the city results have been counted and announced, the results for the regional parliaments are still unknown. An exit poll taken on Sunday indicated that the national leader in that part of the election was Law and Justice, taking 31.5% of the vote, with the ruling Civic Platform party of prime minister Ewa Kopacz trailing with 27.3%.
But Polish exit polls have been known to be off, so the true outcome of Sunday's election is still unknown. If the exit poll result holds, then Law and Justice would have won its first election in nine years, making Kaczynski's call for a new election somewhat perplexing. However, Kaczynski has often called the fairness of Poland's democratic institutions into question, arguing that was the reason for his party's long run of defeats.
Accepting the election results would put Poland on the path to becoming like Belarus, the dictatorship to Poland's east, he warned.
“What is happening is a danger to the democratic system in Poland,” Kaczynski said. “We'll have an election outcome which will be hard to trust.”
Bronislaw Komorowski, Poland's president, has tried to calm the atmosphere, stressing that all the votes that were cast on Sunday have been counted at the local level, and that the problem is with the computer system allowing for the votes in each region to be summed up.
“Let's not go crazy, everything can be counted,” he said.
The problems with the computer system are being investigated by the country's official watchdog. The system was reportedly created over only four months and rushed into service just before the election for the bargain price of only 430,000 zlotys (€102,000).
“Every mistake that could be made in the code was made,” one programmer told the niezalezni.pl portal.
Poland's public institutions generally take the lowest bidder on projects ranging from highways to airports and, apparently, computer programs. The result has been enormous problems with quality of the finished project, but the officials in charge of the bidding are usually spared investigation by prosecutors for wasting public funds.
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