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Council of Europe sounds alarm over electoral practices before Polish vote

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As the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is facing its tightest election race since 2015, with a risk of losing, a delegation from the Council of Europe voiced concerns about the fairness of the Polish electoral process.

A delegation comprising members of parliament from France, Germany, Austria, Romania and the United Kingdom went on a visit to Poland under the remit of the Strasbourg-based human rights organisation, the Council of Europe. Following the visit, they published a report on 28 September, noting a “heated and polarised campaign environment”.

“I was astonished by the level of abusive language used between the different political parties. The level of antagonism is very high. Some politicians accuse each other of being foreign agents, either about Germany or Russia”, Mireille Clapot, French MP and head of the delegation, told Euractiv.

Indeed, pro-EU leader candidate for the Civic Platform party (KO) and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk published a video on 20 September on X mocking current Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s language lapsus.

On 11 September, the ruling PiS party released a short film on YouTube, which is part of their strategy suggesting that Tusk is a German agent who wishes to increase the retirement age of Poles while presenting Deputy Prime Minister and de facto PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski as a defender of the Polish people who wishes to address the issue in a referendum.

Simultaneous referendums

Regarding the referendum, the Law and Justice party decided to ask four simultaneous referendum questions to Poles during the general elections of 15 October.

Apart from being criticised for being loaded questions or “intended to circumvent campaign financing regulations”, as the Council of Europe delegation writes, the process of the referendums themselves can pose a threat to democracy.

Indeed, the referendum will only be valid if 50% of the Polish electorate answers them. Therefore, many Poles opposing the Law and Justice party might be tempted not to answer.

Yet, Polish “voters must explicitly refuse to take the ballots from the members of the National Election Commission, which undermines the secrecy of the vote”, explained Clapot to Euractiv.

Indeed, those prone to refuse to take ballot boxes are more probably non-PiS supporters and could face intimidation at the voting station.

Counting the vote of Poles living abroad

The “voting process for Polish citizens residing abroad was also an issue” raised by the delegation. Indeed, the municipality of Warsaw is the only municipality to receive votes from Poles living abroad and has exactly 24 hours to submit the results to the National Election Commission.

“Any votes from polling stations exceeding this deadline will not be counted, raising concerns about the fairness of the vote”, said the head of the delegation, Clapot.

The deadline has been criticised in Poland by Commissioner for Human Rights Marcin Wiacek, calling the new rule to count votes a disenfranchise from Poles abroad and therefore infringing the Polish Constitution.

Some fear that this new rule is an attempt not to tally overseas votes of Poles, who tend to favour the opposition rather than the ruling PiS party, as last 2020 Presidential elections results show.

Poland, IBRiS poll:

PiS-ECR: 36% (-1)KO-EPPG/EFA: 30% (+1)TD PL2050/PSL-RE

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