Tuesday

7th Jul 2020

Opinion

Race to the bottom: all Polish election outcomes are bad

  • Many believe that if the incumbent Polish president, Andrzej Duda, loses it would shorten the life expectancy of the PiS government (Photo: Grzegorz Jakubowski/KPRP)

The presidential electoral race originally scheduled for 10 May in Poland is the climax point in the history of this government.

The Covid-19 pandemic has enabled the party of Jarosław Kaczyński to attempt a final power grab that has been in the making for the last five years.

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At first sight, it looks like a defensive strategy. In the semi-presidential system, the president's office holds powers to veto nearly any law unless the parliament overrules it with 3/5 majority. Event the Law & Justice [PiS] party is not that strong.

Many believe that if the incumbent Andrzej Duda loses it would shorten the life expectancy of the government, by incapacitating otherwise unlimited rule of Kaczyński - the chairman behind the official cabinet, who pulls all the strings in the country.

Others point out a unique chance to save the democratic political culture - by electing anyone but PiS - would restore the balance of powers and enforce much-needed compromise.

There is no doubt that presidential elections in May should be postponed. The introduction of a 'state of natural disaster' prescribed in the constitution would be a natural step with such a consequence.

On 6 August the office of the president would be vacated. The Speaker of Sejm would become acting president and would then have up to 14 days to announce a new vote within 60 days.

In such a case elections would need to take place by mid-October - unless the government introduces a state of a natural disaster, which postpones elections by a minimum 90 days and automatically extends the term.

This would be a logical step which is in line with many voices, even within PiS, that elections should be postponed until next year or more.

Kaczyński is also one of the signatories of a new law proposed to keep the incumbent in office for two additional years without the right to be re-elected - an amendment to the constitution.

But instead, Kaczyński pushes for organising a contested vote in May.

Possible scenarios

It looks like the PiS is playing a game of chicken in which the first to divert from the collision course loses, while the last one standing claims total victory.

The uncertainty of the current situation, without comparative opinion polling, leaves a couple of scenarios open.

A first scenario assumes that voting in May is held via postal voting, and organised despite obvious unfair practices.

In one scenario the incumbent Duda is declared a winner in the first round by the government - which immediately triggers a strong response by the opposition and civil society that submits their case to the Supreme Court.

It remains up to the court to validate the result - and while it has not nullified the vote yet, there are a lot of grounds to do that.

But while even the independent court might not necessarily agree to do this, there is an additional hiccup.

PiS has installed a special chamber of control within the Supreme Court, which was supposed to take over the validation of the election, but it was ordered to be suspended both by combined panels of the Supreme Court as well as by the European Court of Justice.

Yet, PiS may ignore the suspension.

Another scenario assumes a second round is needed. Several projections already indicated that other contenders would see a serious chance of victory then.

Such a prognosis might incentivise PiS to introduce the state of natural disaster - as within two weeks after the vote the number of new Covid-19 cases would start to grow again - thus postponing the vote.

In a number of other scenarios the vote does not take place on 10 May - due to logistical failure, international pressure, or dissent within the ruling majority - and next elections are scheduled the earliest in October 2020.

The chances of Duda victory would likely become thinner with every delay due to voters' dissatisfaction with the economic results, and a wide feeling of relative deprivation.

The final scenario, in which no vote takes place until the presidential office is emptied, assumes that the speaker takes up the position and orders elections but subsequent states of emergency delay the actual vote.

Although this seems unlikely, Poland could plausibly enter a territory uncharted by the constitution, a situation which ultimately benefits only the informal leader of Poland.

Amidst the pandemic the EU countries must recognise the dangers related to this situation.

Poland's strategic position to the EU's future requires institutional stability that comes only with democracy, not with constant institutional disruption.

But first and foremost, the opposition has energise their voters to submit preferences despite legal questioning of the vote.

Just like in 1989 when the elections were unfair but free and the government had to recognise that it lost.

Author bio

Wojciech Przybylski is the editor of Visegrad Insight and chairman of Res Publica Nowa.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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