WARSAW (Reuters) – Politicians from Poland’s ruling alliance and the opposition began talks on Monday on delaying next month’s presidential election due to the coronavirus pandemic, amid deep divisions that could deprive the conservative government of its majority.
The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) is keen to hold the election on schedule on May 10 because President Andrzej Duda, its ally, is projected to win, though a majority of Poles also now back a delay in the vote due to fears over the coronavirus.
But its junior governing partner, Jaroslaw Gowin’s Accord, whose support PiS needs to govern, wants to delay the election by two years, on condition that Duda would then stand down. This option would require constitutional change, and therefore the support of the main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO).
PO leader Borys Budka said on Monday he believed an election could not be held safely in Poland before May 2021.
“I believe we can build a (parliamentary) majority for this,” he told reporters before going into talks with Gowin.
After the first round of talks on Monday, Budka said he was optimistic about finding “common ground”, but Gowin struck a more cautious note.
“It is good that we are holding talks, but we are far from reaching a consensus,” Gowin told news conference, adding that further talks with the opposition were planned.
Poland reported 545 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, the biggest daily rise to date. On Monday the total number of infections stood at 9,593, including 380 deaths, in the country of 38 million.
PiS, which was not represented at Monday’s talks between PO and Accord, has proposed holding the election by postal ballot, though even its own supporters are now mostly opposed to a May vote. Also, a postal union chief said some 30% of postal workers were on sick leave, raising doubts about the plan’s feasibility.
PiS has said it would consider postponing the election by just a few weeks but also, in an apparent gesture to Accord, it has proposed legislation to change the constitution that would allow Duda’s term to be extended by two years.
PiS wants the election to take place soon because it needs an ally as president to ensure it can make further progress in its conservative agenda and controversial judiciary reforms, which the European Union says undermine the rule of law.
PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski knows his party can accomplish little without the continued support of Accord in parliament.
“For Kaczynski the stakes could not be higher because he has no majority without Gowin,” said Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University.
“Ruling the country without a majority in the lower house would be very uncomfortable (for PiS),” she said, referring to the possibility of Accord withdrawing its support.
Accord could join with opposition parties in blocking the postal ballot plan, a plan Materska-Sosnowska said was in any case a “lost cause”.
Changing the constitution to prolong Duda’s mandate requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which Kaczynski lacks and which gives the opposition leverage.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Pawel Florkiewicz, and Joanna Plucinska, additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Alan Charlish; Editing by Gareth Jones)