Polish ombudsman asks court to block presidential election plan

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s human rights commissioner sought a court order on Wednesday to block government preparations to hold a presidential election on May 10 by postal ballot, saying they were a “gross violation” of the law.

The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) is trying to push through parliament a plan whereby Poles would vote next month on a new president by postal ballot because of the coronavirus pandemic, saying this would ensure public health was protected.

Polish opposition parties, human rights groups and European Union officials have said the plan is unfair, lacks transparency and will undermine democracy in the nation of 38 million.

Adding his voice to the criticism, ombudsman Adam Bodnar said the government’s request for the Polish post office to prepare for a postal ballot was illegal because the relevant bill has not yet been approved by parliament.

“This could irreversibly change the current rules for conducting elections,” Bodnar said in a statement, adding that it would also negatively affect civil rights in Poland.

“Any implementation of this decision may fundamentally affect the legal assessment of the validity of the election,” said Bodnar, whose role as independent ombudsman is to defend human rights and government accountability in Poland.

An administrative court could now potentially issue an injunction ordering the government to halt the preparations for a postal ballot, which would plunge Polish politics into further disarray days before the scheduled vote.

The government did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment on Wednesday on Bodnar’s move.

Poland has so far reported 12,640 cases of the new coronavirus and 624 deaths.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reaffirmed on Wednesday the government’s plans to hold the presidential election as scheduled on May 10, or with a delay of a couple of weeks at most. Opposition parties have called for a longer delay.

Critics of PiS accuse it of putting political gain ahead of public health concerns. Opinion polls show the incumbent Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, is likely to win re-election.

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