The agreement foresees that the Supreme Court will invalidate the initial election date within the next 30 days. The announcement of a new date depends on how quickly the Supreme Court makes its decision. It is expected to do so at any moment, but possible election protests might delay the process.
Names on the ballot likely to stay the same
The clock is ticking and PiS has no time to spare. As soon as the court has made a decision, Sejm Marshal Elżbieta Witek will announce a new date for the presidential election. Meanwhile, the conservative political alliance Zjednoczona Prawica (United Right) is expected to amend the electoral code so that the details of conducting a voting procedure under the current circumstances are specified. The revised code will adopt a principle of continuity, meaning that those who already registered their candidacy and gathered the necessary 100,000 signatures will not have to collect them again.
However, should new candidates decide to enter the presidential race, they won’t have much time left to collect the required number of signatures. “Porozumienie” is also expected to support the passing of the postal vote act on Thursday, with the assumption that the law is then immediately revised. The role of the National Electoral Commission in organising the voting process will also be restored, and delivering the ballots will require a confirmation of receipt.
Considering that voters were initially supposed to find the ballots in their mailboxes, the new solution is a substantial change. As Gowin told us, these are just the basic premises that will still be refined to ensure that they are fully consistent with the constitution. The one issue still being debated, however, is the proper way to guarantee the safety of mailmen who are supposed to deliver the ballots.
Opposed to an election in May, Gowin’s associates threatened to break ranks with the ruling coalition. Such a decision had the potential not only to implode their own party (Porozumienie), but could also destabilise the entire conservative political alliance (Zjednoczona Prawica). The ruling coalition has only 235 seats in the lower house, and 18 of them are members of Porozumienie; to override the Senate veto against organising a postal-vote election in May would require 231 votes.
Gowin himself has recently resigned as Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Science and Higher Education. He tried to push for an amendment of the constitution that would extend the sitting president’s term by two years without the possibility of being re-elected. His idea failed to find support of the opposition parties, and PiS didn’t like it either. The fate of the postal vote election will finally be decided by Sejm on Thursday.
Hermeliński: Witek could single-handedly declare the election to be void
The former chairman of the National Electoral Commission, Wojciech Hermeliński, is not exactly sure why the government seeks to drag the Supreme Court into the election conundrum. “There’s no need for that. If the election will not take place on May 10, the Marshal of the Sejm should issue a decision declaring the election to be void, and then announce a new date the following day. It means the entire game would start anew: registering the candidates, collecting signatures [to register, a presidential candidate is required to collect at least 100,000 signatures]. The most important part, however, is reinstating the central role of the National Electoral Commission in organising the election after PiS removed it from the decision-making process. The ballots that PiS prepared are little more than trash.”
Jarosław Kaczyński i Jarosław Gowin na sali plenarnej. Warszawa, Sejm, 8 kwietnia 2020 Fot. Sławomir Kamiński / Agencja Gazeta
Hermeliński emphasised that once the decision has been made, theelection could already take place within 60 days – technically, it would be completely legal since there is a provision that allows for it; in the end, the decision is entirely up to the Sejm Marshal Elżbieta Witek. Hypothetically, we could be voting even before the end of President Duda’s term on August 6.
Dragging the Supreme Court into the election game won’t be difficult since the President appointed supporter Kamil Zaradkiewicz as the acting chief justice to replace Małgorzata Gersdorf, whose term has ended on April 30. It should be pointed out, however, that the function of an “acting” chief justice is not mentioned in the constitution.
PiS also wanted the Constitutional Tribunal, controlled by its party loyalists, to declare that the marshal can single-handedly postpone the election date initially scheduled for May 10. The constitution provides that the head of state should be elected between 100 and 75 days before the end of the ongoing term, making Saturday, May 23, the last available date.
Today, Witek sent such a proposal to the Constitutional Tribunal led by Julia Przyłębska, who immediately decided to consider it as soon as Thursday. Constitutional law experts explain that what Witek and Przyłębska are doing is a blatant violation of the constitution, and that the verdict issued by the Constitutional Tribunal will not have any legal authority.
All this chaos is a result of PiS trying to organise presidential election on May 10, no matter the costs. It replaced the National Electoral Commission with the Polish Postal Service as the organising authority, printing 30 million ballots without any legal basis, only to try and push through a general postal vote election at the very end.
The opposition claims postponed election as its success
In an interview with TVN 24, Krzysztof Gawkowski (Lewica) reacted to the news about the government’s new plan:
“It’s simply laughable. Democracy is being trampled on. Who will give back the National Electoral Commission its rightful authority? It angers me to see that what was supposed to be a national celebration of democracy is being turned into a parody. A bunch of gamblers and tricksters with seats in the parliament wanted to serve us an atrocious election.”
“That the election won’t take place in May after all, is the opposition’s success. But we still have to be mindful and wait for concrete details; as of now, all we got is a story told us by two politicians. There might be yet another unexpected turn, who knows? Maybe Marshal Witek will announce something new? As long as we remain in the dark about the precise plans for amending the electoral code and new guidelines regarding the postal-vote, it is difficult to draw any conclusions. And there’s still the question about the good will of the ruling party to cooperate with the opposition because such a procedure clearly requires reaching political consensus,” said Robert Kropiwnicki, KO MP. Asked whether his party considers nominating a new presidential candidate, he declined to comment.
“Kaczyński backed down for the sake of a stable coalition. Gowin can call it his big success, but we had our part in it, too. After all, the election in May was postponed,” one of the senators from KO commented.
The Senate, where the opposition has the majority, has 30 days after first receiving the documents to review and comment on any legal changes, including alterations of the electoral code.
Before the new plans were announced, the opposition was hoping to reach an agreement with Porozumienie, break the conservative coalition’s majority, and even proposing Gowin as the new Sejm Marshal.
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