Poland's ruling nationalists ask for partial vote recount after losing Senate

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s ruling nationalists asked the Supreme Court on Monday to approve a recount of some votes for parliament’s upper house, a move which if approved could hand them a majority in both chambers and expedite their disputed reform agenda.

FILE PHOTO: Poland's ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski gestures as he speaks after the exit poll results are announced in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

The Law and Justice (PiS) party, which regained its majority in the lower house but narrowly lost it in the Senate in the Oct. 13 election, said it wanted recounts in Katowice and Koszalin due to a high level of invalid votes.

Its loss of a simple majority in the Senate, and a smaller than expected majority in the lower house, mean it may be harder for the PiS to complete an overhaul of the judiciary, media and cultural institutions.

Poland’s ruling euroskeptic nationalists have been embroiled in a long-running dispute with the European Union over its reforms of the judiciary and public media, which critics say have eroded the independence of both.

PiS deputy spokesman Radoslaw Fogiel told reporters the party had spotted “anomalies”, namely “much higher numbers of invalid votes” in some districts that outweighed the differences in vote totals for the respective candidates.

He did not rule out the PiS requesting further recounts.

“It is hard for me to say what the intentions of PiS are, for sure the main intention is to take the Senate (upper house),” said Senator Gabriela Morawska-Stanecka from the opposition Left coalition whose seat was one of those targeted.

“Now we will see if this is why PiS forced through the reform of the Supreme Court,” tweeted Robert Biedron, leader of one of the parties in the Left bloc.

The Supreme Court has up to 90 days to rule on the validity of elections.

Opposition parties hold 48 of 100 seats in the upper house, but wield a majority thanks to three independent senators who are broadly supportive.

Polish media have reported that the PiS, which also holds 48 seats in the upper house, has made overtures to opposition senators in an attempt to establish a working majority.

“If someone, by some coincidence...became a senator on the opposition list, but thinks that it is worth working for Poland with the...Law and Justice team, we will not chase him away with a stick,” Fogiel told RMF FM radio station after the election.

One opposition senator, Tomasz Grodzki, said he had been approached by PiS and asked if he would like to become minister of health. The Senate’s PiS speaker Stanislaw Karczewski told private broadcaster Polsat News he was unaware of such an offer.

The PiS campaigned on a promise to expand its massive welfare program and deepen reforms of the judiciary, an overhaul that has sparked unprecedented legal action from the EU and drawn accusations that the party is subverting democracy.

Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Mark Heinrich