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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » July 29, 2011
Politics & Society
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Election Race Is On, Despite Warning
July 29, 2011   
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Political parties have started campaigning in earnest ahead of this autumn’s parliamentary elections, despite a warning from officials that they have jumped the gun and may be breaking the law. But with the election date known—though not formally announced—politicians have proved unwilling to halt the race.

The opposition Law and Justice (PiS) and Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) parties have recently started billboard and television campaigns while some Civic Platform (PO) politicians promoted themselves using posters not directly associated with their political activities.

In the first half of July, PiS started broadcasting TV and radio commercials criticizing Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government. Billboards featuring the PiS leader with the slogan “Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński—Time for Bold Decisions” were part of the campaign.

The SLD put up billboards around the country featuring party leader Grzegorz Napieralski, deputy leader Katarzyna Piekarska and several other prominent SLD politicians.

Kazimierz Czaplicki, a senior official from the National Election Commission, the authority responsible for overseeing elections in Poland, warned July 19 that the Commission might reject the financial reports of parties and committees which conduct such campaigns. Earlier, the Commission said that parties were not allowed to conduct “information campaigns” that were in part electioneering.

Under Polish law, an election campaign can start on the day when the date of the elections is officially announced. Political parties started campaigning in earnest after President Bronisław Komorowski said the elections would be held Oct. 9, in comments that were not a formal announcement.

Against the law?
The Commission said it believes that election campaigning at this stage may infringe the law on elections, especially rules on the way election campaign committees acquire and spend campaign funds, and rules concerning a cap on such spending. Czaplicki said the Commission would scrutinize the financial reports to be submitted by campaign committees and political parties from this point of view. Campaign committees are required to submit their financial reports no later than three months after the day of the election. Parties have to submit their reports every year by the end of March. If a report is rejected, a party or committee could lose the subsidy they are entitled to from the state.

The ruling PO party responded the fastest to the Commission’s warning. “Billboards and posters with the images of PO politicians will be removed,” said Jacek Protasiewicz, a EU deputy who is coordinating the party’s preparations for the election campaign.

Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, deputy leader of the PO parliamentary group, said PO deputies have been ordered to urgently remove posters advertising free legal advice and featuring their photographs. In early July, several PO deputies put up such posters in their constituencies. The posters were in the party’s colors.

Billboard ban lifted
The issue of billboards and television commercials has also sparked a legal dispute. Several months ago, parliament voted through new rules banning such forms of campaigning in the run-up to elections. But the Constitutional Tribunal ruled July 20 that such a ban was unconstitutional.

“The verdict has to be respected, even though we do not always agree,” Tusk responded. “It’s just a pity that everyone will waste money on these billboards and television commercials,” he added.

The Constitutional Tribunal also made other decisions concerning the new election rules passed by parliament. The judges ruled that the introduction of the single-seat constituency system for Senate elections was allowable under the constitution, while a parliamentary election lasting two days was not. They also decided that proxy voting and postal voting by Poles living abroad was permissible. The court made its ruling after examining a complaint by PiS, which claimed that holding an election over two days could lead to irregularities.

The most important change to the election law this year is the introduction of single-seat constituencies in Senate elections. This means in practice that the Senate elections will be held in 100 newly established constituencies. Election campaign committees will have the right to field only one candidate in each constituency, while voters will have the right to cast their vote for only one candidate. In previous elections, two, three or four senators were elected in each constituency.
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