friday, 24 april of 2020

Election

Poland’s Lockdown Election Is a Farce, Supreme Court Chief Says

Poland’s plan to hold a presidential ballot during the coronavirus pandemic is making a mockery out of what should be a free and fair election, the outgoing Supreme Court chief justice said.

Malgorzata Gersdorf said the government, which has been accused by the European Union of flouting the rule of law, is wrong to pursue the May 10 ballot after it imposed a strict virus lockdown and opposition candidates halted campaigning. It’s also planning to hold the vote via an untested mail-in system that isn’t in place weeks before the election.

"There’s lots of question marks concerning the presidential elections,” Gersdorf, 67, said in a video interview from her office this week. “Just to mention the fact that candidates can’t present their views during the election campaign -- in this sense it’s a farce."

With just weeks ahead of the vote, it’s not clear whether the election will be held as planned or whether it will be delayed as demanded by the opposition and some ruling coalition lawmakers. The push for the vote has amplified concerns that nationalists are using the virus as cover to eliminate democratic checks and balances, after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban won the right to rule by decree indefinitely.

Gersdorf became the face of defiance against the ruling Law & Justice Party’s overhaul of Poland’s judiciary two years ago when it changed a law to force her into retirement in the middle of her term. The EU cried foul and managed to compel the cabinet to reinstate her.

But as her six-year tenure at the court ends next week, Gersdorf fears the government is using the pandemic to further undermine democracy.

"Under the guise of the fight with the coronavirus, which obviously is necessary, restrictions of civic rights may be prolonged and at some point we’ll all get used to this," she said. "Everything is possible during this march toward authoritarian rule."

The European Parliament, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and other human-rights think-tanks have called on the government to delay the election. Opinion polls show the ballot will be won by incumbent Andrzej Duda, a government ally.

The judiciary has been the main point of conflict in Law & Justice’s reform effort, which it justifies by a need to better align the courts to the will of the people. Gersdorf became one of the campaign’s most publicized victims.

When she was forced to retire in 2018, a decision she never accepted, she recused herself from all cases and continued to go to work. Her days often started with makeshift briefings to reporters outside the Supreme Court as supporters called on her to defy the law.

The opposition and some pro-democracy advocates want her to block Supreme Court justices, who were appointed in a process deemed flawed by the EU, from ruling on the validity of the presidential election.

She has resisted, saying that regardless of her views, she won’t be part of the Supreme Court that will decide on the ballot’s validity. After recent rule changes, Duda will have more sway in picking her successor.

"I have one message for my successor: You have to defend judicial independence," she said. "If that’s lost, Poland will slide toward authoritarianism."

(Published by Bloomberg, April 24, 2020)
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