Jacek Czaputowicz, the former Polish foreign affairs minister, says the upcoming Polish general election process and its results may be challenged at international and domestic levels as a result of the decision to hold the vote together with a referendum.
The former top diplomat, who served as foreign minister between 2018-2021 in the present conservative PiS Government, told commercial broadcaster TVN that the way the ruling party was combining the parliamentary elections on October 15 with a referendum could lead to the propriety of the vote being challenged at home and abroad.
The referendum covers issues such as migration, border protection, privatisation and the retirement age, all of which many say are designed to undermine the opposition.
Voters who do not wish to participate in the referendum will have to ask officials not to issue them with a ballot for it and the identity of those who do so will have to be recorded, Czaputowicz said.
Since the opposition is calling for voters to refuse participation in the referendum, recording non-participants will mean voters will effectively be identified as to who they vote for in the national elections, he said. This, Czaputowicz argued, nullifies the internationally recognised requirement of electoral secrecy.
The former minister said he believed that is likely to lead to the election results being questioned in the Polish courts and by the international community, given that Poland has signed up to the European Union’s standards on the rule of law.
He added that if the veracity of the elections is queried by the European Commission, the body will then have the right to apply the conditionality mechanism to Poland, which could result in EU funding being suspended.
Czaputowicz said he was surprised the PiS was prepared to “take the risk of the elections failing to meet democratic standards”. He added that since the secrecy of the election was under question, the result “could be challenged, even should PiS win it, as the election process will have identified who the opposition voters were”.
That, he said, was unacceptable as “it could lead to voters feeling intimidated into participating in the referendum”.
The European Parliament and the EC have already expressed reservations about the election process. The Parliament has called for a full observers’ mission by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the EC has said that it supports such a move.
The EC has also expressed doubts about the process of the election’s certification in the courts. It points to the fact that appointments of justices to the Polish Supreme Court have been challenged and that therefore there are doubts about that court’s independence.
The PiS has not to reacted to Czaputowicz’s comments. The party’s decision to hold the election and referendum together was taken late in the day and observers say there is no other way to hold them without a joint electoral roll for both.
In official communications, Poland’s National Electoral Commission (PKW) has been stressing that the registration of refusals to take part in the referendum is carried out to ensure all ballot papers are accounted for. The individual data gathered will not be publicly available, it is claimed.
Opposition parties have mixed reactions to the referendum. The Left party has said that voters should simply boycott it. The right-wing Confederation has called it a “red herring” and will not comment on it further.
The main opposition party, the PO led by Donald Tusk, has called the referendum a “gimmick” and Tusk himself said at an election rally that he would “make sure” it was declared illegal.
Any challenges to the electoral process or of the election results are adjudicated by the courts and the Supreme Court is responsible for the final certification of the results.