Poland’s presidential election, supposed to happen on May 10, never took place, plunging the country’s politics into ever-bigger chaos amidst the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the looming economic crisis.
It remains unclear when the election will take place. Poland’s ruling coalition, led by Law and Justice (PiS), is sailing on uncharted waters after essentially cancelling the May 10 vote on no constitutional basis. The decision was announced just as a political deal struck between PiS and its junior coalition partner, Accord, last week.
The legal standpoint of Poland’s State Electoral Commission (PKW) – the body that organises elections but was stripped of that function by PiS in April – is that the Sunday vote must be declared invalid and a new one be carried out from scratch. That would move the election date to – possibly – July or August.
The speaker of the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, should announce the new election date in 14 days, the PKW said in a statement on Sunday.
PiS has long been anxious to hold the election as soon as possible so as not to diminish the chances of the incumbent President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally.
The party’s attempts to organise a mail-in only vote in May – supposed to diminish the risk of accelerating the spread of the coronavirus – failed after Accord opposed it, threatening the unity of the government. The opposition-held Senate also added an extra layer of difficulty, as it delayed the passing of a law to allow such a vote until less than a week before the supposed election date.
Poland’s impending economic crisis due to the coronavirus could deliver a fatal blow to Duda’s reelection bid and to the PiS-led government, already apparently engulfed in conflict between various factions.
PiS’s leadership reportedly met on Saturday to discuss the next steps. According to unconfirmed reports, the party’s leader and the de facto top decision-maker in Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, pushed for a May 23 vote.
That would possibly lead to a coalition crisis after PiS and Accord agreed that the election would be postponed until summer. During the talks on Saturday, it was also reported that the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki handed in his resignation in protest against rushing the election but Kaczynski – officially just a rank and file MP – declined it.
Both the secret talks and the reported resignation of the PM are evidence of tensions within the ruling coalition, under pressure to balance the necessity of keeping the coronavirus pandemic at bay, re-open the economy after more than two months of lockdown, and retain the political advantage over the opposition.
The latter could be an increasingly difficult task as the Polish economy is about to enter an unprecedented recession. Poland's GDP is expected to contract by 4-5% in 2020, according to most estimates.
With the presidential vote now possibly taking place in July or August, the incumbent Duda will be campaigning in a new reality of growing unemployment, decreasing wages, and company bankruptcies.
Two recent polls might have signalled some weakening of the president already although he still leads by a huge margin. In a poll by IBRiS, Duda has 45% with the second most popular candidate, TV personality Szymon Holownia who pitches himself as a candidate from outside of the political coteries, at 19.5%.
In another poll, by Pollster, Duda has just over 40% against Holownia’s 20%.
That is a huge worry for Duda. If the incumbent president fails to win 50% of the vote, he will face Holownia in the run-off vote. In the scenario, most opposition voters are likely to back Holownia, possibly tilting the final result just against Duda.
An opposition president would spell the end of effective governing by the PiS-led coalition, which lacks a majority to overturn a presidential veto in the parliament.
Poland had 15,996 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Sunday afternoon, including 800 deaths.