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Poland’s presidential poll halted over COVID-19

Poland governing coalition parties have agreed to postpone this Sunday’s presidential election because of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

The nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party had wanted the vote to go ahead to get Andrzej Duda, 47, re-elected.

But junior coalition partner Agreement and the opposition said PiS was putting political gain ahead of public health.

The election will now be rescheduled to a date “as soon as possible” and it will be a postal-only ballot.

The timing of the election had plunged Poland into a serious political crisis on top of the ongoing health crisis, the BBC’s Adam Easton in Warsaw reports.

Both international and Polish election observers had also raised concerns the ballot would not be sufficiently transparent nor fair given that candidates have suspended campaigning due to the lockdown, our correspondent says.

Poland has nearly 15,000 confirmed infections and more than 700 deaths, according to America’s Johns Hopkins University.

The COVID-19 numbers are lower than in many Western European countries, but the Polish health minister has warned that cases have not yet peaked.

Under President Duda, Poland has enacted far-reaching and controversial changes to society, including the judiciary and the media.

Opposition leaders fear PiS – which supports the incumbent president – is seeking to ensure his victory to continue this programme.

Mr Duda has been far ahead in recent opinion polls. His opponents say he benefits from regular coverage on state television, while normal election campaigning has been impossible.

The socially conservative PiS boosted its majority in the lower house in last October’s parliamentary election.

During its time in government, the party has clashed with the European Union (EU) and the opposition over its reforms to Poland’s judiciary and its stance on gay rights.

In 2018, PiS changed the law so the parliament could select members of a national council that nominates judges. And new controversial measures passed in December make it easier to dismiss judges who criticise further judicial reforms.

Poland’s Supreme Court has even warned the country may have to leave the EU over the changes. -BBC

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