Fair elections in Poland at risk from ruling party bill, opposition says

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A bill sponsored by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party will undermine the fairness of elections, opposition deputies said in parliament on Thursday.

The proposal would introduce live web feeds from polling stations, but also replace all current members of the State Electoral Commission, a body responsible for conducting and overseeing elections, as well as all election commissioners, giving political parties more say in naming new ones.

The PiS has said its bill would make voting more transparent, but critics said the real aim is to boost the electoral prospects of the party, which has been accused by the European Commission of eroding democratic standards.

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“This bill is a thuggish project. This is a mine placed under elections in Poland,” the head of opposition PSL party, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said in parliament.

The socially conservative PiS, in power since late 2015, is already at loggerheads with fellow members of the European Union over its push to bring the courts and state media under more direct government control, as well as over migration.

According to the 72-page long amendment that did not undergo any public consultations, seven of the nine members of the State Electoral Commission would be chosen by parliament for 9-year terms, with PiS set to directly appoint three members and the remaining parties four.

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The remaining two members would be judges chosen by the head of the Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Administrative court.

PiS deputies have already appointed the head of the Tribunal following changes in the law that opposition parties said violated the constitution, a charge PiS denies.

“The changes proposed in the bill will destabilize the election system and are a serious threat to the effective carrying out of the local elections in 2018,” the State Election Commission said in a statement last week.

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Head of the Commission Wojciech Hermelinski said on Thursday the amendment would also give an advantage to political parties at the expense of independent candidates.

The bill would require the newly-chosen Commission to appoint nearly 400 election commissioners within 60 days of the bill coming into force, removing the requirement for the commissioners to be independent from political parties.

Lawmakers are expected to initially vote on the bill early on Friday. If finally passed by the PiS-dominated parliament, the bill would still have to be signed into law by President Andrzej Duda, who could potentially veto it.

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