Poland’s Presidential Elections 2020: Undermining Democracy or finding a solution?
Every 5 years, Polish citizens head to the voting booths and elect the President of their country. Although like most other European countries, the President does not have as much power as the Prime Minister, he is still the Head of State of the Republic of Poland and heads the executive branch. The President also maintains the right to dissolve the Polish Parliament in certain cases, veto legislation, and represents Poland in the international arena. All the aforementioned tasks show why this job is not simply a ceremonial title. Thus, why is this election receiving so much international attention? Many countries have postponed election days due to the risks of COVID-19 as well as an unfair advantage to the incumbent due to the others not being allowed to campaign. Poland has decided to come up with a new idea that involves citizens voting by post; however, this not only gives an unfair advantage to the current President – it allows for private and sensitive data to be viewed and therefore potentially rigged by the Polish Post.
So how does the Polish Presidential system work? Citizens directly vote for the President in a two-round system if a majority is not achieved in the first round, something that is very rare. However, this year might be the exception due to many polls predicting that current President Andrzej Duda (who is running as an independent but is backed by the ruling right-winged Law and Justice Party) will manage to receive enough votes in the first round, scheduled for May 10, to bypass the need of a second round. The upper house, the Senate, can postpone the elections but only for one week until May 17. This is where the opposition and European experts say that the Polish government is undermining democracy due to it not allowing other candidates to have the opportunity to campaign. Only the current President is seen on television and can communicate directly with the citizens, thus, ensuring that his ideas and policies are known, which will increase his voter base. Former President of the European Council and former Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, announced that he would be boycotting these elections due to the unjust way they are being held. Duda’s current opposition candidate, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, also stated that this new addition should not be allowed and declared that she will not vote either, despite being a candidate.
However, it is not only the opposition that is crying foul play in this election. Poland has had many battles with the EU regarding its judicial system in terms of that it does not match with the standards of EU law. The European Commission has launched new infringement procedures against Poland over what it sees as the continued erosion of the rule of law in the country. Specifically, the procedure relates to changes to Polish judiciary law, which entered into force on February 14. The European Commissioner for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova, stated that “there are clear risks that the provisions regarding the disciplinary regime against judges can be used for political control of the content of judicial decisions. This is a European issue as Polish courts apply European law. Judges from other countries must trust that Polish judges act independently. This mutual trust is the foundation of our single market.” This statement shows that the EU will not back down on this issue, considering it has previously fined Poland for violations of EU law. This is related to the current Polish Presidential elections because it shows that EU laws are being bypassed and infringed upon, thus ignoring the rights of the Polish citizens which are also EU citizens.
The current plan, by the Polish government, is to create small post boxes in front of every house and have the citizens vote by ballot. The Polish Post (Poczta Polska) would then collect the ballots and send them to be counted. The opposition has said that this could cause mass infection and harm the workers, as well as allowing votes to be tampered with. A scandal erupted last week when every Polish mayor and city council president received an anonymous, unsigned, email from the Polish post requiring them to send private data of over 30 million Polish citizens in an insecure manner. This was criticized heavily by the opposition saying this would breach the fundamental rights of millions of Polish citizens and made it clear they would file a lawsuit against it.
The Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, stated that these elections must proceed, and the government is doing all they can to ensure fair and legal elections. He stated that it is impossible to postpone these elections because they would have to change the Polish Constitution to make it legal. It is still unclear how these elections will unfold, but some loud critics are saying that the act of undermining democracy must be stopped.
The author of this article is Richard Benussi. He currently is in the second year of his BA in International Relations at Corvinus University of Budapest. Richard is also a Middle Manager for the Human Resources Team within the International Diplomatic Students Association (IDSA).