Opposition party calls on electoral commission to take steps to protect integrity of referendum and election

One of Poland’s opposition leaders, Szymon Hołownia, has called on the electoral commission to introduce three measures to ensure that the referendum being called by the ruling party this autumn does not compromise the results of the parliamentary elections that will take place at the same time.

Hołownia, leader of the centrist Poland 2050 (Polska 2050), wants election candidates to be barred from also participating in the referendum campaign, for separate voter lists to be created for the referendum and elections, and for electoral commissions to be given more time to count votes.

These steps will help prevent the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party from undermining the integrity, transparency and fairness of both votes, says Hołownia.

Wybory muszą być sprawiedliwe, nie pozwolimy, by zmarnowali choćby jeden głos. Domagamy się od Państwowej Komisji Wyborczej trzech postanowień:

1. Zakazu uczestnictwa kandydatów do parlamentu w kampanii referendalnej

2. Rozdzielenia spisów wyborców do parlamentu i do referendum…

— Szymon Hołownia (@szymon_holownia) August 24, 2023

Plans to hold the referendum were first announced by PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński in June. The next month, PiS submitted legislation allowing a referendum to be held on the same day as elections, and that was signed into law by President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, last week.

The referendum itself still has not been called, although the government also began that process last week. It has proposed four questions to be asked, relating to the sale of state-owned companies, the EU’s migration pact, the retirement age, and the border wall with Belarus.

Opposition parties and many experts have argued that the nature of the questions makes clear that the aim of the referendum is, in fact, to boost the PiS vote on election day. A former head of the National Electoral Commission (PKW) has called on people to boycott the referendum.

The second-largest opposition party in parliament, The Left (Lewica), also supports a boycott. However, other opposition groups have been reluctant to make such a call.

The ex-head of Poland’s electoral commission has announced he will boycott the government’s planned referendum.

He also advised people on how to legally avoid participating while still voting in parliamentary elections due to take place at the same time https://t.co/NZ9giNlhdw

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 16, 2023

Yesterday, Hołownia – whose party is part of the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga) coalition – instead announced that he is submitting a request to the PKW to introduce three measures to ensure that the referendum and elections are run separately and fairly.

First, he pointed to the fact that, whereas elections have strict campaign spending limits, referendums do not. That has led to fears that PiS will use the referendum as a way to unofficially campaign for the elections.

Those rules also put Poland 2050 at an additional disadvantage because they only allow parties that contested the last parliamentary elections to participate in referendum campaigns. Hołownia’s party was only formed in 2021, two years after the last elections.

Hołownia therefore wants the PKW to bar candidates in the parliamentary elections from participating in the campaign for the referendum.

The majority of the large campaign donations received by the ruling party have come from senior managers at state-owned firms.

Opposition party PO has received donations primarily from private business leaders, in particular at gaming giant CD Projekt https://t.co/a90UkM5PnL

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 21, 2023

A further concern has been the fact that, when voters arrive at polling stations, they are likely to be given ballot papers for both the elections and the referendum at the same time. That means that those who wish not to vote in one or the other would have to declare this to staff immediately.

This threatens the secrecy of voting, says Hołownia. His second proposal, therefore, is for separate registers and issuing of ballot papers for the two different votes.

Finally, he expressed concern that the aim of PiS by holding both votes simultaneously is to allow them “to create the impression of chaos if they see that they will lose the elections”. He, therefore, wants the time allowed for counting votes to be extended to 48 hours.

New electoral rules require counts of overseas votes to be submitted up to 24 hours after polls close, a deadline that does not apply in Poland itself.

The human rights commissioner says that this is unconstitutional and may disenfranchise some voters https://t.co/Zy7mzaiTo8

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 19, 2023

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Polska 2050/Twitter

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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