Poland’s government should scrap its plan to hold an all-postal presidential ballot next month or risk undermining the country’s democracy, Human Rights Watch warned.
Campaigning for the presidential ballot was paused in early March due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the country’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has backed maintaining the May 10 election and introduced legislation to create a mail-in voting system.
The bill has been backed by Parliament’s lower house and has moved on to the Senate. The second alternative PiS has proposed is to extend the current presidential term from five to seven years.
Human Right Watch condemned both alternatives on Tuesday and called on parliament — held by Pis — to “ensure that the election process is predictable, free, and fair, which may require postponing the voting for a short period.”
According to Human Rights Watch, preparations are already underway for the all-postal election to take place despite the legislation not having been approved yet.
For the NGO, “given the unprecedented nature of such full-scale mail-in voting in Poland, and the extremely short time frame, it appears very unlikely – if not impossible – that the process will guarantee fairness and transparency.”
Piotr Buras from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank also told Euronews that with two weeks to go before the election, “there is no legal basis for the election to take place.”
“The government decided to change the electoral law just a few weeks ago to introduce general postal voting. It, in itself, is unconstitutional — the basic law forbids any changes to the electoral law later than 6 months before the election,” he wrote in an email.
The country’s constitution already provides for circumstances in which the government could postpone elections during a public health emergency. Per the constitution, an election can only be held no earlier than 90 days after the end of a state of emergency for public health reasons.
The government has not declared a state of emergency. The country has, as of Tuesday, recorded 12,218 cases and 596 deaths from COVID-19, according to a tally kept by the John Hopkins University.Furthermore, Buras stressed, Poland has no experience of this kind of voting.
“Universal postal ballot organised within a few weeks from scratch by an unprepared institution in the midst of a pandemic poses numerous challenges,” he explained. Voter confidentiality and participation would be compromised, he said.
“Also, hundreds of thousands of Poles living abroad will not be given the possibility to vote,” Buras added.