Incumbent Polish President Andrzej Duda is on course for a knock-out victory in the first round of the presidential election scheduled for May 10, two opinion polls showed this week.
The election is one of the most divisive in Poland’s recent history. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) is pushing for the vote to happen as scheduled despite the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic having not peaked yet. That could pose a considerable danger to public health, the opposition and experts warn.
Ensuring Duda wins the second term in office is crucial for the future of the PiS government. The ruling party does not have a majority to overturn a presidential veto. An opposition president would likely paralyse the government, especially given the extent of partisanship that Polish politics has reached during PiS’ rule.
PiS is also wary of postponing the election, fearing the coronavirus-induced economic crisis will dent Duda’s chances of remaining in power. One of the polls showed Duda would have to face the strongest opposition candidate in the run-off vote if the election were postponed until later this year after the pandemic has been brought under control.
The first macroeconomic indicators for March – when the lockdown did not yet cover the entire month – showed major impact already, with retail sales, industrial production, employment in the corporate segment, and consumer sentiment all contracting. April data are expected to be still weaker.
Poland’s economy is expected to contract 4-5% in 2020 although a swift recovery of around 5% is expected to follow in 2021.
PiS has recently changed Poland’s electoral code to allow the vote to take place by post only, claiming it is a way of carrying out the election in a safe manner amidst the pandemic. Poland had nearly 11,100 confirmed coronavirus cases as of midday of April 25, including 499 deaths.
The opposition points to a number of issues with the postal vote, above all how it could compromise efforts to contain the virus. Transparency and secrecy of the vote — essentially organised by the government, not the state electoral commission — could also be at risk. Ballots will be mailed to voters individually with no real control over who really receives them, opening a window of opportunity for fraud, the opposition and legal experts argue.
There also are likely issues with the logistics of printing ballots for some 30mn voters in just weeks. The ballots are being printed already despite the law regulating the postal-only vote not being in force yet.
Duda is formally independent but is a staunch ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that put him forward for the post in 2015. The president could win as much as 65% of the vote, according to a poll by the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank for the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza carried out on April 2-12.
Another poll, by Kantar for the state-owned newswire PAP, showed Duda at 59%. Both polls gauged the support for Duda’s opponents in mere single digits.
The opposition candidates are unclear about whether they should take part in the election, thus legitimising it, or boycott the vote, essentially handing Duda victory.
But even if Duda wins the vote rife with so many legal and technical problems, the political legitimacy of his second term could well be questioned because an election amidst the epidemic is highly unpopular with voters.
The same ECFR poll showed three-quarters of the voters opposed the May election with the expected turnout at just 29%. That compares unfavourably to the 55% turnout in 2015.