Spat over presidential election tests Poland’s ruling coalition

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WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s government is at risk of splitting after a junior coalition party said presidential elections should not be held in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, rejecting the main Law and Justice (PiS) party’s line that they should go ahead.

FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Poland February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel//File Photo

The lower house of parliament, the Sejm, is expected to vote on Friday on a law that would allow voting in the election to take place exclusively by post, with no physical voting booths.

A PiS source told Reuters the vote could determine the future of the coalition if members including the Porozumienie (Accord) party oppose the proposed law.

“We will vote against the proposal,” Porozumienie lawmaker and party spokeswoman Magdalena Sroka told Reuters.

The PiS-led coalition holds 235 of the 460 seats in the lower house and would lose its majority if Porozumienie quit.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of nationalist PiS and Poland’s de facto leader, reaffirmed on public radio on Friday the party’s position that the presidential election should take place as scheduled.

Jaroslaw Gowin, who heads Porozumienie in parliament, said in an interview with Polska Times.pl daily that he did not want the election held next month but had not threatened to pull out of the government.

“The decision about the date of the election has to take into account the epidemic. There is no space for any political games. This is a matter of life and death,” Gowin said.

Opposition parties also want the poll postponed, saying restrictions imposed to halt the spread of coronavirus will prevent them campaigning and that holding the vote, even via post, is a health hazard.

“All scenarios are possible at the moment,” said a lawmaker from another coalition partner, Solidarna Polska, adding that PiS may try to convince individual Porozumienie members to stay in the coalition if the party withdraws.

There were 392 new coronavirus cases in Poland on Thursday, the highest daily increase so far, with another 203 reported on Friday, bringing the total to 3,149, according to the health ministry. Nearly 60 people have died.

POLLING

Support for President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally and the party’s candidate, has risen during the pandemic to 55%, according to IBRiS pollster.

In February, he was neck-in-neck with opposition candidate Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska of the centrist Civic Platform (PO), with around 40% of second-round votes.

FILE PHOTO: Civic Coalition’s candidate, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel/File Photo/File Photo

“At a time of crisis, voters consolidate around the authorities, assuming the authorities are doing a good job fighting the threat. And the current rulers are doing a good job,” Kaczynski said.

PiS won a second term in October parliamentary elections on promises to raise living standards to match those of the West and hefty social handouts.

Poland has clashed with the European Union on issues including immigration, climate change and the rule of law.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, Joanna Plucinska, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Catherine Evans



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