Polish presidential challenger urges boycott of May vote, halts campaign

WARSAW (Reuters) – The main Polish opposition candidate running for president called on Sunday for a boycott of the country’s May election due to the coronavirus and completely suspended her campaign, adding to doubts about whether the vote will go ahead as planned.

FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Poland February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has so far stuck to the May 10 date for the presidential election despite calls to delay the vote.

On Saturday, it introduced rules on postal voting, infuriating the opposition which said changing regulations so close to the election was unconstitutional.

“Let’s boycott these elections, Poles stay home, your life is the most important thing,” Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, the presidential candidate of the center right Civic Platform (PO) party, told reporters, calling on other candidates to suspend their campaigns.

Incumbent President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, is well ahead in the polls and his election is crucial to the government’s hopes of implementing its socially conservative agenda as the president holds the power to veto laws.

Critics say PiS is keen to hold the elections in May to capitalize on Duda’s current strong position and avoid a later election where the fallout from the pandemic could dent his popularity.

Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, the agrarian Polish Peasants’ Party’s (PSL) presidential candidate, was quoted by state-run news agency PAP saying he was focusing on amendments to the government’s package of anti-crisis economic measures.

Independent candidate Szymon Holownia tweeted that the government should postpone the election but that a boycott would mean giving up civil rights.

On Saturday, Duda said he hoped elections would go ahead as planned but the situation was unpredictable.

“If it did happen that the epidemic was raging… then in that situation the election date could turn out to be unsustainable, but I am counting on it that we will be able to calmly hold these elections,” he told state-run news channel TVP Info.

Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Thursday it was too early to talk about the date and that an assessment should be made in two weeks.

Nearly three-quarters of Poles believe the election should be postponed, according to an opinion poll released on Wednesday.

France and Bavaria in Germany held local elections on March 15. Jaroslaw Flis, a sociologist with the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, estimates that the Bavarian elections resulted in an around 2,000 extra coronavirus cases.

France has postponed the second round of its local elections. Doctors there have said they are bracing for a new wave of coronavirus infections after the government pressed ahead with the first round.

Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Koper; editing by Nick Macfie and Jane Merriman

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