Polish ruling coalition postpones Sunday presidential vote

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s ruling party leader and a partner in the governing coalition announced an agreement late Wednesday to postpone Sunday’s presidential election, saying a new date will be chosen later.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, and Jaroslaw Gowin, leader of a small party in the conservative coalition, announced in a joint statement that they had agreed to cancel Sunday’s vote and set a new date.

They called their decision “a solution that will guarantee Poles the opportunity to participate in democratic elections.”

The decision brought some clarity to a chaotic situation that kept Poles uncertain if they would be casting votes this weekend for a president.

The May 10 date had been set months ago, but the coronavirus pandemic and a government-ordered lockdown threw preparations for Sunday’s election into disarray. Bitter fighting between the conservative governing party and its political opponents kept them from agreeing on an alternative.

The ruling party had sought to stick to the election date by making it a postal vote, but proper legislation was still not approved. Many in Poland voiced concerns that such a vote organized on short notice might not be conducted property or meet democratic standards for fairness.

A disagreement between Kaczynski and Gowin had also created a stalemate that had threatened to cause a larger political crisis. Their joint statement suggested the crisis has been averted.

Under their plan, after Sunday the Supreme Court will declare the election void because it does not happen, and then Parliament Speaker Elzbieta Witek will announce “new presidential election to be held on the first possible date.”

They did not indicate when that might be.

Under a constitutionally dictated timeline, the last possible date for the presidential election in 2020 would be May 23. But they said they will amend legislation regulating elections in 2020, which might suggest a later date. The vote is to be by postal ballots.

Law and Justice is backing the reelection bid by President Andrzej Duda, whose five-year term expires Aug. 6. Duda leads in opinion polls, well ahead of nine other candidates.

Law and Justice proposed holding an all-postal vote weeks ago, saying that was a safe option during the pandemic. But the change in balloting methods requires parliamentary approval.

The legislation passed the lower house of parliament last month but the Senate took a month to debate it, then rejected it Tuesday. The bill returned to the lower house, but there was no time left before Sunday to prepare the ballots and have postal workers deliver them to voters’ mailboxes.

The head of the electoral commission, Sylwester Marciniak, said Tuesday that it was “impossible for legal and organizational reasons.”

There had also been concern that the electoral commission was being sidelined in the push for May 10 elections.

Gowin and Kaczynski’s statement said they agreed the electoral commission would organize the future vote.