Poland sets June 28 date for rescheduled presidential election

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland picked June 28 on Wednesday as a new date for a presidential election that was cancelled last month amid the coronavirus pandemic, setting the stage for a short campaign that could weaken the country’s nationalist government.

Planning for the election had plunged Poland into political turmoil after the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party abruptly called it off four days before the original May 10 date.

“I would like it very much if we could finally pick the head of state. It’s a matter of ... Polish statehood,” Elzbieta Witek, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, said in a televised speech announcing the new schedule.

For PiS, the election is vital to cementing its grip on power and making further progress on its conservative agenda. The incumbent Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, is the frontrunner, although his lead has shrunk in recent days amid signs of economic contraction due to the coronavirus outbreak.

For Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, the candidate of the main opposition centre-right Civic Platform (PO) party and the only challenger not to have been entered for the May 10 vote, the announcement sets off a race to gather the 100,000 signatures required to stand by a June 10 deadline.

“We have waited for this day and at last we can start on the road to change, because Poland needs change, a strong president who will keep a close eye on those in power,” said Trzaskowski.

Duda has faced accusations in the past of being unwilling to stand up to PiS and its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

PiS has a fragile majority in parliament and needs the president to rubber stamp its legislative agenda, particularly its justice reforms that the European Union has said undermine democratic checks and balances.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz and Alan Charlish; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Alex Richardson