Poland may need to dissolve parliament and hold a snap election unless lawmakers allow a presidential vote, which the government wants to hold by postal ballot during the coronavirus crisis, the prime minister’s chief of staff said on Wednesday.
Polls show incumbent Andrzej Duda of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party on course to win the presidential election, which was scheduled for May 10. But politicians have been bitterly divided over whether it is possible to stage the election during a pandemic that has put the country on lockdown.
PiS wants the vote to go ahead this month, and has proposed a postal ballot to reduce the health risks from the coronavirus. But so far it has been unable to persuade parliament to back that proposal, with many lawmakers arguing that even voting by mail would be too dangerous.
The upper house of parliament voted on Tuesday to reject a postal ballot. Poland’s lower house, the Sejm, is expected to vote again on Wednesday or Thursday on the issue.
PiS has a fragile majority in the Sejm and the vote is seen as a test for the ruling coalition, with some members of PiS ally Accord expressing opposition to postal voting.
“We hope that there will be enough lawmakers who…will adopt the draft bill. However, one also has to consider options in which the bill is not backed and then we will have to deal with a very serious political crisis,” the prime minister’s chief of staff, Michal Dworczyk, said on public radio.
“I think that such discussions have to be very cautious, but a scenario in which early elections take place cannot be excluded,” he also said.
Under Poland’s parliamentary system, most power lies with the prime minister. The president has the power to veto laws.
Dworczyk said that the presidential election is now unlikely to be held on May 10 as there is not enough time to prepare.
PiS says that latest possible date for the election under the constitution is May 23. The PiS-nominated Parliament speaker, Elzbieta Witek, said on Tuesday she would ask the Constitutional Tribunal whether she can postpone the election, signalling the party’s preferred course of action if the postal vote rules are rejected.
As of Wednedsay, the new coronavirus had infected 14,647 and killed 723 people in Poland.
PiS has held up as an example an election in the German state of Bavaria, which was carried out by post on March 15.