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Poland’s presidential election – against the will, safety, and health of the people – is to be held on May 10th despite the current pandemic. It is organized as mail-in voting. The National Electoral Commission has been sidelined and excluded in an illegal emergency law coup. Jarosław Kaczyński, MP and leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, the de facto ruler of the country, desires to do so to maintain the PiS regime’s grip on power, given this opportunity that the epidemic provides him.
This is in fact what President Trump talked about numerous times – mail-in voting allows for fraud. Will the US authorities and representatives stand by and allow one of America’s allies to slide into authoritarianism?
In March, Poland’s PiS regime inserted certain articles into the emergency COVID-19 rescue package bill, adding changes into electoral laws for mail-in voting for individuals under quarantine and those 60+ years old. The method by which this was done is against the law and Constitutional Tribunal rulings. Poland’s electoral laws can only be amended six months before any election. The pandemic has given many authoritarian regimes the opportunity to quietly pass changes. Cynical, political manipulation is leading Kaczyński to stop President Duda and the government from declaring a formal national state of emergency, required to postpone the May election until a later date. In doing so, they are once again breaking the Constitution and rule of law.
Poland is under an “epidemic state” by government decision since March 13th with schools, borders, and most of the economy shut down. The harsh lockdown measures have created a “rally around the flag” effect for the incumbent regime. Alongside the inability of opposition presidential candidates to carry out a normal election campaign, with most people locked in and frightened at home, and the public health crisis we are in, we are in no situation to hold elections, which would require more than 270,000 people to organize, and millions would have crowd themselves into voting booths.
First, this is a public health risk. Reports show almost 500,000 people would be at a heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 if Kaczyński’s plan was carried out, and the number of infected would jump by at least 75% relative to no election held.
Second, this would be a farce of democracy. Turnout would be record low, while in the last three elections, it reached record high levels. Recently, Great Britain moved its May elections to May 2021, primary elections in the US have moved for several states, France’s second round of local elections has been moved, elections in Russia, Bolivia and numerous countries have been postponed as well as well.
The number of employees of the Polish Postal Service – clerks, mail carriers, etc. – on sick leave continues to increase. Moreover, we see censorship of medical professionals and procedural suppression and omission of fatality and infection data, on top of the engineering of this pandemic crisis into a propaganda and electoral tool that favors the incumbent president and PiS candidate Duda. This crisis is leveraged in Poland to hold a manipulated, undemocratic mail-in voting-based election. This will undermine not only President Duda’s office, should he win, but undermines democracy in the fifth largest Member State of the EU and a devoted US ally and NATO member.
We plead for US elected officials, officials at the Department of State, and the US Ambassador to Poland to speak out and act to stop this illegal election that carries a risk of fraud. Given the emergency situation, it would undermine democracy, have serious consequences for US–Polish relations, as well as serve as an impact factor on the process of voting in the US.