Poland president may win landslide as opposition voters stay away - poll

WARSAW, April 23 (Reuters) - Polish President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalists, may be re-elected next month by a landslide, an opinion poll showed on Thursday, as the opposition renewed calls for a delay to the vote due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Scheduled for May 10, the election has been the subject of heated political debate in Poland, with critics accusing the Law and Justice (PiS) government of putting political gain ahead of public health in insisting the vote be held as scheduled.

PiS says a postal ballot, which it is trying to organise instead of using polling stations, will ensure the election can be held safely, even as its officials say the pandemic has yet to peak in Poland.

Poland has reported 10,346 cases of the coronavirus and 435 deaths.

The opinion poll, conducted on April 2-12 for the European Council for Foreign Relations think tank and published by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, showed Duda capturing 65% of the vote. None of the runners-up would reach double digits, it showed.

An ECFR expert said Duda’s sharp gains in the poll - his support hovered around 40% before the pandemic - suggested much of the centrist and leftist electorate which opposes him was unlikely to participate in the election.

“This is their opposition to the very idea of organizing an election at this time,” Pawel Zerka, a policy fellow at ECFR said.

The poll showed nearly three-quarters of Poles opposed a May presidential election, with only 29% saying they would vote. Election turnout came to 55% when Duda first won the presidency in 2015.

Conversely, the poll showed Duda winning only 39% of votes if the election were held later, after the pandemic subsides, forcing him to compete in a second round two weeks later. Opinion polls conducted before the election showed Duda would struggle to win a runoff.

It is a high-stake vote for PiS, because the party needs the president’s approval to further its conservative agenda and judicial reforms, which the European Union says subvert the rule of law.

It has shrugged off opposition calls to postpone the ballot for a year, arguing that it is safeguarding democratic procedures. But it has also given tentative support to an alternative proposal from a junior member of its parliamentary coalition that would give Duda two more years in power via a constitutional amendment.

It is still unclear when the election will take place. Parliament has yet to give its clearance to the PiS plan to vote by mail, which postal unions oppose on the grounds of safety.

Underscoring the political rifts, PiS has said mail-in ballots are already being printed, despite the opposition saying that it is illegal to do this without parliament first approving the procedure. (Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Hugh Lawson)