Polish lawmakers reject presidential election plan, coronavirus deaths rise

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers on Monday rejected a proposal from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to hold a presidential election on May 10 by postal ballot, increasing uncertainty that the vote can take place at all while the coronavirus pandemic persists.

PiS says the election should go ahead despite the rising number of deaths caused by the pandemic and has proposed replacing polling stations with postal ballots.

Critics accuse it of sacrificing public health in its effort to secure the re-election of incumbent Andrzej Duda, its ally, who is currently ahead in the opinion polls.

Parliament said 228 lawmakers opposed including the postal ballot plan in the legislative agenda, and 228 were in favour, while three abstained and one did not vote. The tied result meant the PiS motion was rejected.

The vote suggests an emerging crack in the PiS-led conservative ruling alliance, which has governed Poland since 2015.

Earlier on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, who heads a junior member of the alliance, Accord, resigned over the election issue.

“I am resigning… since I think the election cannot be held on May 10,” Gowin told a news conference, adding that his party would remain in the ruling alliance.

Gowin has said the presidential election should be delayed for two years and has called on opposition parties to support a change in the constitution to allow this to happen.

Poland has reported a total 4,201 cases of coronavirus so far and 98 deaths.

Winning the presidential election would enable PiS to make further progress in pressing its conservative social agenda and cementing reforms of the judiciary which the European Union has said subvert the rule of law.

PiS rejects any accusations about its motivations in the election dispute and says it wants to preserve democratic procedures.

PiS won a fresh four-year parliamentary mandate last year, helped by a generous welfare spending programme and strong economic growth. However, a looming recession prompted by the coronavirus crisis could damage public support for PiS.

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