Polish health minister says postal vote only option for two years

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s health minister said on Friday that elections scheduled for May 10 could go ahead safely despite the coronavirus pandemic if they were done by postal vote.

A normal voting process could only take place without the threat of widespread contagion from the virus after a vaccine had been found, which could be two years away, Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski.

It remains unclear whether the election will go ahead, with some in the ruling conservative alliance advocating constitutional change to extend the president’s term by two years, others advocating a postal vote, and the opposition calling for a state of emergency.

“The only form which I can recommend as health minister from a medical perspective is a postal vote, because it minimises contact between people,” Szumowski told reporters.

“The only date that would be safe for such a large event as a presidential election would be a time when there is a vaccine, and that is a year and a half to two years away.”

Szumowski said that from a medical perspective there were no better or worse dates for holding a postal vote.

As of Friday evening Poland, a country of 38 million people, had reported 8379 cases of the coronavirus and 332 deaths.

The presidential election is crucial for the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party’s hopes of being able to implement its agenda as the president holds the right to veto laws. Incumbent Andrzej Duda is a PiS ally.

Duda said on Friday he would not object to changing the constitution to extend his term if that was the will of parliament.

“If the Polish parliament decides on such a solution… I of course will agree to such a solution, I am not going to argue with the will of parliament,” he said during a question and answer session with the public conducted on social media.

Changing the constitution requires a two thirds majority, and therefore would need opposition support. Opposition politicians have said the elections can be delayed without constitutional change.

Tomasz Grodzki, the speaker of the opposition-held upper house of parliament the Senate who is himself a surgeon, was critical of Szumowski’s advice.

“I am deeply disappointed that a professor of medicine, the Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski put a short-term political interest over the Hippocratic oath,” he wrote on Twitter.

On Friday, the European Union’s legislature rebuked Poland for flouting “European values” by pressing ahead with the election.

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