April 7, 2020 / 5:49 AM / 2 months ago

Poland pushes forward postal election legislation

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s lower house of parliament controlled by ruling nationalists approved late on Monday draft legislation to allow a May presidential election to be held as a postal ballot due to the coronavirus, state news agency PAP said.

Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and other parliamentarians vote at Polish Parliament during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Warsaw Poland, April 6, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. POLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN POLAND.

The Law and Justice (PiS) party has said the election should go ahead despite the rising death toll from the highly contagious respiratory disease and has proposed replacing polling stations with mail-in ballots.

Critics accuse the governing party of sacrificing public health on the altar of securing the re-election of incumbent Andrzej Duda, its ally, who is ahead in the opinion polls as the public health crisis consolidates voter support for the authorities.

Parliament had initially voted to bar the PiS plan from its legislative agenda after several deputies from a broad conservative alliance that backs the nationalists in the legislature broke away.

But the PiS secured a majority late on Monday to approve the postal election bill. In favour were 230 lawmakers, 226 were against, while two abstained, PAP said.

The draft legislation will now be sent to the upper house of parliament, the opposition-controlled Senate, which has the power to delay it. But any veto can be overruled by the lower house, the Sejm.

Poland has reported a total of 4,413 cases of the coronavirus and 107 deaths, and expects the number of infections to peak in May or June. The election is scheduled for May 10 and could spill into a run-off vote on May 24.

Winning the presidential election would enable PiS to cement its reforms of the judiciary which the European Union has said are anti-democratic and subvert the rule of law. Any president hostile towards the government could block its efforts.

PiS rejects any accusations about its motivations in the election row, saying it wants to preserve democratic procedures.

It won a fresh four-year parliamentary mandate last year, helped by a generous welfare spending programme and strong economic growth. However, a looming recession prompted by the coronavirus crisis could damage public support for PiS.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski

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