Polish Senate rejects postal vote, the lower house to make final decision

The idea has been heavily criticised amid concerns that a hastily introduced procedure might not meet democratic standards

Poland's President Andrzej Duda

The Polish Senate rejected a bill that would allow the country to hold next weekend's presidential election by postal vote and now the final decision will be made by the lower house, news wires reported. The Senators rejected the bill late Tuesday with a 50-35 majority, with one abstention. 

The lower house, the Sejm, can still reverse the Senate's rejection, but needs an absolute majority to do so, meaning that the number of votes in favour of such a reversal needs to be higher than the number of votes against and abstentions combined. The Sejm is provisionally scheduled to vote on the bill on Thursday, but might still push the vote forward.

The ball is now in the court of Poland's governing national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which wants to conduct a postal vote in May. PiS has the majority in the lower house, but may face mutiny from a faction within its parliamentary caucus linked to former deputy prime minister Jaroslaw Gowin. Gowin had resigned from the government because of the issue, stating that holding an election on Sunday as scheduled would pose a threat to public health.

Also, the postal vote idea has been heavily criticised in the country amid concerns that a hastily introduced procedure might not meet democratic standards.

If PiS succeeds in approving the postal vote bill, the legislation would provide the opportunity to postpone the election slightly, likely until 17 May or 23 May. However, constitutional lawyers claim that this provision of the postal vote bill is unconstitutional. Sejm speaker Elzbieta Witek announced Tuesday evening she will seek the opinion of the country's Constitutional Tribunal on the matter.

Should the postal vote bill be rejected by the lower house, that would put pressure on the government to introduce extraordinary measures, such as declaring a state of natural disaster due to the Covid-19 epidemic. According to University of Warsaw professor Ryszard Piotrowski, a specialist in constitutional law, declaring such extraordinary measures would be the only constitutional solution to postpone the presidential vote. Introducing a state of emergency has been postulated by opposition politicians.

According to commentators, PiS is pushing for a May election as it fears that, once the economic effects of the coronavirus lockdown are felt, high support for PiS-supported incumbent Andrzej Duda may evaporate, making it harder for Duda to secure a second term.

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