WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish voters should boycott a presidential election set for May 10 out of “basic human decency” because of the new coronavirus pandemic, Donald Tusk, leader of the centre-right European People’s Party and a former prime minister, said on Tuesday.
Tusk said a government plan to hold the vote via a postal ballot was insufficient to mitigate safety concerns in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, and accused the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) of subverting the constitution.
The election has become highly divisive in Poland, with the PiS insisting it go ahead on schedule despite a mounting number of deaths from the highly contagious COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Opinion polls show fewer than 30% of Poles are likely to cast ballots if the vote is held on May 10 as scheduled.
“Basic human decency does not allow us to participate in what is being proposed,” Tusk said in a video posted on Twitter, adding that he would not cast his vote.
“If you don’t know how to act, be decent,” he said, citing the late anti-communist activist, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who is seen as a leading moral authority by many Poles.
Tusk said he thought PiS could be persuaded to work on an alternative election plan that would be “safe and fundamentally fair”.
Poland currently has 12,089 confirmed coronavirus cases and 570 deaths. Schools and most shops are shut, Poles must wear face masks outside and the country’s borders are closed as part of a lockdown designed to halt the spread of the virus.
Critics accuse PiS of putting its own political interests ahead of public health concerns, a charge it denies. The party hopes to secure the re-election of its ally, President Andrzej Duda, who is currently ahead in the opinion polls.
Poland’s opposition remains divided, however, with only the Civic Platform, a centrist grouping once led by Tusk, calling for an outright boycott of the election.
A final decision on the postal ballot rests with parliament, which is only expected to vote on the matter on May 6, just days before the election date.
PiS says it might agree to delay the vote by a week or two, a margin allowed by the constitution. But the government would have to declare a state of emergency or of natural disaster to delay it for any longer, a move PiS has resisted so far.
PiS and its conservative allies hold a majority in parliament but members of its ruling coalition have signalled they could vote against the postal ballot plan and have suggested delaying the election by two years.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said on Monday that the current PiS proposal for a postal ballot could disenfranchise some voters abroad and limit the scope for election observers to take part.
Human Rights Watch also urged Warsaw to reconsider.
“Poland’s voting process should protect voters during the pandemic. It’s no solution to rush through a potentially flawed voting system or to postpone the election by two years,” Lydia Gall, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.
PiS, well ahead of its rivals in the opinion polls, fear support will erode as the lockdown measures hammer the Polish economy. Losing an ally as president would undermine its efforts to reform Poland’s judiciary - moves criticised by the European Union - and tighten its hold on power.
Reporting by Warsaw bureau, editing by Justyna Pawlak and Gareth Jones