• The Star Staff

Poland’s Supreme Court declares presidential election valid

President Andrzej Duda of Poland was elected to a second term.

By Monika Pronczuk

Poland’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld the results of President Andrzej Duda’s narrow victory in last month’s presidential elections, the country’s closest contest since the fall of communism in 1989, a decision that clears the path for the country’s conservative Law and Justice party to continue in power.

Thousands of supporters of the opposition candidate and rights groups had filed legal challenges in the country’s highest court demanding the election be reassessed after Duda edged Rafal Trzaskowski, the opposition candidate and the liberal mayor of Warsaw. Duda secured 51.03% of the vote, while Trzaskowski won 48.97%, in a mid-July runoff.

Opponents of Duda pointed out to many irregularities during the campaign and during the election, including pushing forward with the vote despite the coronavirus pandemic, limited access to the vote for Poles abroad, and the role of the public media and government officials in the campaign.

The court’s decision was not a surprise in light of sweeping changes to the country’s judicial system introduced by the governing party, moves that drew widespread condemnation from the European Union and international human rights organizations, as well as from Poland’s opposition and some of its judges.

The country’s judges had been selected for decades by an independent council, but legislation signed by Duda in 2017 introduced changes that gave the president given more direct power over the Supreme Court.

Joanna Lemanska, who heads the chamber of the Supreme Court that ruled on the validity of the election — and who was appointed by Duda — had stepped away from the process, but critics said her departure was not enough to remove the likelihood of bias.

“I had no doubt what the decision would be,” said Michal Wawrykiewicz, a lawyer from the Free Courts Initiative and the Committee for Defense of Justice. “We are not talking here about an independent court but a party tribunal.”

Wawrykiewicz pointed out that the court ruled that an overwhelming majority of complaints did not fulfill the formal criteria and was not even assessed on the grounds of their merit.

“The European Court of Justice will rule on September 22 whether the chamber of the Supreme Court fulfills the criteria of an independent court, which will give us answers to many questions,” Wawrykiewicz said.

Given the margin of defeat, almost half a million votes, the supporters of Trzaskowski who lodged complaints after the election said the move was not intended to overturn the result of the election but to publicly question the validity of the vote and demonstrate that the elections were unfair.

“These elections were not equal, didn’t meet democratic standards; they were dishonest,” Borys Budka, the head of the main opposition party, Civic Platform, said following the election. “Because of that, we demand that they are declared invalid.”

The majority of issues with the election were reported by voters from abroad, where tens of thousands of a record 520,000 ballots may have gone uncounted.

In Britain, more than 30,000 ballots — or 16.6% of the total number of registered Polish voters in that country — went missing, according to the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. Cezary Tomczyk, the head of Trzaskowski’s campaign, said it had also received reports from across Poland of ballots that were not properly stamped, a requirement for them to be validated.

Some of the claims filed to the court that questioned the validity of the election concerned the role of the country’s public media in what was viewed by critics as an unfair electoral campaign.

Representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent an election monitoring mission to Poland, noted that the public media “failed in its duty to offer balanced and impartial coverage.” Instead, it said, it “acted as a campaign vehicle for the incumbent and frequently portrayed his main challenger as a threat to Polish values and national interests.”

Even if the vote itself is considered fair, “the use of public funds, the engagement of the so-called public media, caused the situation to be unequal,” said Budka of the opposition.

Aleksander Stepkowski, the spokesman for the Supreme Court, announced Sunday that the court had processed all of the complaints and found 93 out of the 5,847 complaints valid, not enough to influence the overall result of the election.

The complaint filed by Trzaskowski’s campaign committee did not contain sufficient proof to sustain its claims, the court added.

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