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Coronavirus slams Poland’s already-troubled coal industry

July 07, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The coronavirus has ripped through Poland’s coal mines, where men descend deep underground in tightly packed elevators and work shoulder-to-shoulder to extract the source of 75% of the nation’s electrical power.

Of Poland’s more than 36,000 reported COVID-19 cases, about 6,500 are miners — making them nearly a fifth of all confirmed infections in the country, even though they make up only 80,000 of the country’s population of 38 million.

The virus hot spots, centered in the southern Silesia region, have paralyzed an already-troubled industry, forcing many to stay home from work and triggering a three-week closure of many state-run mines that are only now reopening.

It is one more blow that the pandemic has dealt to the global coal sector, already in steep decline in much of the world as renewable and other energy sources get cheaper and societies increasingly reject its damaging environmental impact.

Economic shutdowns from the virus also have cut electricity demand. Britain completely removed coal-fired power from its grid for 67 days starting April 9 — a record set since the Industrial Revolution as the National Grid works toward a zero-carbon system by 2025.

“Coal is in a long-term decline,” said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. “It’s simply cheaper to use gas or renewables, and the economics of coal just no longer make sense in many parts of the world.”

“The question is whether the recent sharp reduction in coal use is sustainable and will last beyond the impacts of the pandemic,” Ward said. U.S. coal companies, already in financial trouble, are more likely to default because of the pandemic, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Italian utility ENEL says it will be able to close coal-fired power stations that it operates across the world sooner than anticipated due to the virus.

But China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, actually has been accelerating plans for new coal power plant capacity as it tries to revive its virus-hit economy. Poland, under pressure from the 27-member European Union to lower carbon emissions, is seeing the pandemic complicate its coal troubles.

Poland is the only EU state refusing to pledge carbon neutrality by 2050. Governments in Warsaw have argued for years that as an ex-communist country still trying to catch up with the West, it cannot give up the cheap and plentiful domestic energy source. It also says its reliance on coal plays is important for weaning itself from Russian gas.

In reality, Poland’s coal production is becoming less efficient, and it has increasingly been importing cheaper coal from Mozambique, Colombia, Australia and even Russia. As it does so, Poland’s own coal piles up unused, and some mines have been closed.

“Look what’s happening with coal, how many millions of tons are being imported from outside Poland, and it was supposed to be completely different,” Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said at a campaign rally in Silesia. He faces conservative President Andrzej Duda in a presidential runoff election Sunday.

Piotr Lewandowski, president of the Institute for Structural Research in Warsaw, says Poland’s coal sector is being pushed to a “tipping point” by several factors: falling demand for coal because of warmer winters; wind and other renewables becoming cheaper; rising costs of carbon emissions; and a society less willing to tolerate high levels of air pollution.

“As coal mines struggle, their stock of unsold coal is the highest it has been in five years,” Lewandowski said. “The mines are between a rock and a hard place. They need to manage the outbreak while they are in financial tatters.”

In an open letter Friday to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, some 40 environmentalists, scientists and other groups urged him to urgently prepare a plan for phasing out coal use in order to receive EU funds for making a transition to a greener society. They said the pandemic has sped up “the economic, ecological and social problems” associated with coal.

Miners, however, worry the government could use the outbreak as a pretext to permanently shut inefficient mines. Conservative leaders have tried to calm those fears, aware of the political costs of job cuts to the industry.

When communism fell in Poland, it still had about 390,000 coal miners. Layoffs created high unemployment and poverty in Silesia, and miners staged violent protests in Warsaw. Jacek Sasin, the deputy prime minister in charge of mining, insists there is no reason for miners to fear for their long-term prospects.

“All those who tried to argue that reduction was some sly plan to liquidate mines talked nonsense,” he said. Certainly nobody expects any big decisions about coal before Sunday’s election between Duda, the incumbent, and Trzaskowski.

Coal miners already are frustrated by stagnant wages and a feeling the government is less committed to supporting them, said Patryk Kosela, a spokesman for a miners’ trade union, Sierpien 80. Adding to their concerns have been long waits for coronavirus test results and a state mining institute report issued at the start of the pandemic that said miners were not at risk.

“It was wishful thinking,” Kosela said. “In mining, you work in tight groups. You go down in a packed small lift, people are crowded. Then you travel on an underground train, together, rubbing shoulders.”

Polish miners normally wear only goggles and helmets with lamps, but one of the biggest companies said it supplied masks and disinfectant, and implemented other hygiene measures at the start of the outbreak. It was unclear how many workers actually wore the masks.

The virus spread very fast, Kosela said. The good news is that very few have faced serious complications, and many have recovered. “Some are surprised that they are infected because they feel fine,” he said.

Adam Henkelman, a 44-year-old miner who recovered from the virus, blames the government for the high infection rates and the other troubles in the sector. “They had lost interest in us,” said Henkelman, who works in the Murcki-Staszic coal mine in Katowice. “We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”

Associated Press writer Monika Scislowska contributed to this report.

A divided Poland holds presidential vote delayed by pandemic

June 28, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poles voted in a presidential election Sunday that was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and was taking place amid deep cultural and political divisions in the European Union nation.

President Andrzej Duda, a 48-year-old conservative backed by the nationalist ruling Law and Justice party, was running against 10 other candidates as he sought a second 5-year term. Whether Duda wins or not will determine whether the ruling party keeps its near-monopoly on political power in Poland.

Most recent polls showed that no single candidate was likely to reach the 50% required to avoid a runoff given the crowded field of candidates, all of whom are male. In that case, the two top vote-getters will face each other on July 12.

The vote had been scheduled for May 10 but was postponed in a chaotic political and legal battle as the ruling party pressed to hold it despite the pandemic. Exit polls will be announced immediately after polling stations close Sunday at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT, 3 p.m. EDT). The final official results are expected by late Wednesday.

Polling ahead of Sunday’s vote suggested Duda was the front-runner but might not reach the 50% needed to win outright. Polls also showed that he would have a more difficult time in a runoff given that many opposition votes would be expected to unite against him.

Duda’s strongest challenge comes from the Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, also 48, who is backed by the centrist Civic Platform party. Trzaskowski entered the race late after the May election date was scrapped.

Duda’s once-strong support, bolstered by adulatory coverage in state media, began to slip once virus lockdown restrictions were lifted and other candidates could campaign. Poland has not been as badly hit by the pandemic as many countries in Western Europe, and most people were voting in person, though required to wear masks and observe other hygiene rules. There was also a mail-in voting option, and thousands of voters in some southwestern regions with higher virus infection numbers were required to vote by mail.

As of Sunday, Poland had nearly 34,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its 38 million people, with over 1,400 deaths. Stanislaw Tasiemski, a 69-year-old office worker, joined many others voting early in Warsaw. He cast his ballot for Duda, saying he opposed political “experiments” in a time of crisis.

“In the face of what is happening, stability is needed,” he said. Duda’s campaign focused on defending traditional values in the mostly Catholic nation while promising to keep raising living standards to Western European levels. He took a position against same-sex marriage and adoption and denounced the LGBT rights movement as a dangerous “ideology.”

That kind of rhetoric — along with laws that have given the Law and Justice party much greater control over the justice system and the party’s harnessing of public media to promote the government’s image — have raised concerns among some that Poland is following Hungary in eroding democratic norms established after communism collapsed three decades ago.

On the campaign trail, Trzaskowski promised to keep the ruling party’s popular social welfare spending programs while vowing to restore constitutional norms. That message resonated with Iwona Goge, a 79-year-old who voted for Trzaskowski in Warsaw and was encouraged to see so many others voting.

“It’s bad. Poland is terribly divided and people are getting discouraged,” she said. Other presidential candidates include Szymon Holownia, a TV personality and journalist who had once studied to be a priest. Holownia is unaffiliated with any party and has generated some enthusiasm among those tired of years of bickering between Law and Justice and Civic Platform, the country’s two main parties.

Also in the running are a left-wing politician who is Poland’s first openly gay presidential contender, Robert Biedron; the head of an agrarian party, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz; and a lawmaker with the far-right Confederation party, Krzysztof Bosak.

Rafal Niedzielski contributed reporting from Warsaw.

Polish president calls LGBT ‘ideology’ worse than communism

June 13, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish President Andrzej Duda accused the LGBT rights movement Saturday of promoting a viewpoint more harmful than communism and said he agreed with another conservative politician who stated that “LGBT is not people, it’s an ideology.”

Duda made his comments in the small southwestern town of Brzeg as he campaigns for reelection in Poland, a predominantly Catholic nation that spent more than four decades under communist governments.

Gay rights is emerging as a key campaign theme in the presidential election as the race grows close between Duda, backed by the nationalist conservative ruling party, and Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who has called for tolerance for gays and lesbians.

Duda, who is 48, told his supporters that his parents’ generation did not struggle to cast off communism only to now accept “an ideology” that he thinks “is even more destructive to the human being.” The president said that during Poland’s communist era, regimes ensured survival by indoctrinating the youngest generation.

“That was Bolshevism. It was the ideologizing of children,” he said. “Today, there are also attempts to push an ideology on us and our children, but different. It’s totally new, but it is also neo-Bolshevism.”

Earlier in the week, Duda signed a declaration drafted for the stated purpose of helping families that included language on “protecting children from LGBT ideology” with a ban on “propagating LGBT ideology in public institutions.”

Many conservative politicians in Poland say they are not against gay men and lesbians as individuals, but insist they oppose the goals of a civil rights movement they claim is imported from abroad and threatens to sexualize young people.

But gay and lesbian Poles and liberal Poles say government officials are adopting a language of dehumanization. They believe Duda and others are targeting homosexuals to curry favor with the powerful Catholic church — which faces allegations of covering up clerical abuse — and shore up support among conservative voters ahead of the election.

Some analysts also suspect that Duda and the governing Law and Justice party are making a bid for far-right voters who will mostly support the candidate of a smaller party, Confederation, in the election’s first round but whose votes will be up for grabs in a runoff.

The election is scheduled for June 28, with a second round featuring the two top candidates two weeks later on July 12 if none of the contenders wins at least 50% outright. While there are now 10 candidates in the race, polls predict a runoff between Duda and Trzaskowski, who belongs to the centrist and pro-European Union Civic Platform party.

In recent days, a string of prominent conservative politicians have spoken out about “LGBT ideology.” The deputy head of the governing party, Joachim Brudzinski, wrote Thursday on Twitter that “Poland without LGBT is most beautiful.” His tweet included an image of Jesus and eggs in a bird nest — a bird family “realizing God’s plan,” he said.

Asked about the tweet at a Friday rally, presidential challenger Trzaskowski said: “If you use the words ‘Poland without someone’ — and it doesn’t matter who — that is dividing Poles, and we have had enough of dividing Poles.”

“I think anyone who uses this kind of language will pay a political price,” Trzaskowski said. Another conservative lawmaker got kicked off air in the middle of a Friday interview with private broadcaster TVN for saying “LGBT is not people, it’s an ideology.”

Duda said at the rally that he agreed with that idea. “They are trying to convince us that they are people, but this is an ideology,” Duda said to applause and chants of “Andrzej Duda!”.

Poland’s presidential vote to be in person with mail option

May 13, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish lawmakers have changed the rules for the country’s postponed presidential election to make it a vote in person at polling stations with an option of voting by mail. No date for the vote has been set yet.

The changes to the electoral law that were approved late Tuesday come after the May 10 election was postponed amid political infighting over its timing during the coronavirus pandemic. Officials could not ready an all-postal vote in time and the opposition said it was not fair that their candidates could not campaign during the coronavirus lockdown while President Andrzej Duda often appeared on state television.

The vote in favor of the new electoral legislation was 244-137 with 77 abstentions. It still needs to be approved by the Senate and the president. The Parliament speaker still has to announce the new date for the election, that has to come before late July.

Duda, whose term expires on Aug. 6, is seeking reelection and leads opinion polls ahead of nine other candidates. He is required to be above party politics by law but often sides with the ruling Law and Justice party.

Arrests at anti-lockdown demonstrations in Warsaw, London

May 16, 2020

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Demonstrations took place Saturday in several European cities against restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus, with tear gas used on protesters in Poland and arrests made at a gathering in London’s Hyde Park.

Police in several German cities enforced distancing rules as thousands of people gathered to express a mix of frustrations — at restrictions battering the economy and a perceived loss of civic freedom. In some places, people also voiced conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine views.

Police in Stuttgart said that the permitted number of 5,000 demonstrators was exceeded and directed arriving participants to another open space. Police said there were enforcing a mask requirement under threat of a 300 euro ($325) fine.

The permitted number of 1,000 protesters was reached in Munich on the Theresienwiese event grounds, site of the now-cancelled Oktoberfest beer festival. It was one of a number of gatherings across the southern state of Bavaria.

Several dozen people protested anti-virus rules to loud music in Berlin in a taped-off demonstration area on the central Alexanderplatz square, overseen by 1,000 police who enforced a 1.5 meter (six-foot) distancing requirement and a ban on more than 50 people in one place, the dpa news agency reported. Among the permitted protest groups were several dozen counter-protesters denouncing conspiracy theories and supporting the rights of migrants.

Germany and other countries have started to loosen some of the restrictions on movement, gatherings and businesses under restrictions on numbers of customers and spacing of seating. Retailers and restaurants have been hard hit and face uncertain futures. Germany’s professional soccer league resumed matches on Saturday in stadiums without spectators.

Dozens of people, including a senator, were detained during a protest by business owners in the Polish capital against coronavirus restrictions, while police used tear gas against protesters. The city of Warsaw said the gathering was illegal because it had not been previously approved.

Jacek Bury, a senator for the opposition Civic Platform party, said he was hurt by police when trying to defend another protester. Warsaw police said they faced cases of “aggression against police officers.” Police denied using force against Bury.

In Britain, anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine protesters held a gathering in Hyde Park in central London and were met by a heavy police presence. The protesters chanted “Freedom” and held handmade placards. Some sat on the grass and had picnics while observing social distancing guidelines while others ignored the rules and gathered in groups.

Officers tried to disperse the groups, threatening them with fines if they didn’t comply. They arrested 13 people, the London Metropolitan Police Service said. This is the first weekend since the British government eased lockdown rules for England, allowing people to spend more time outdoors. Activities they’re now allowed to do include having a picnic and they are also allowed to meet one other person from another household as long as social distancing is obeyed.

Chan reported from London. Vanessa Gera contributed reporting from Warsaw.

Former EU head Tusk appeals for boycott of Poland’s election

April 28, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Former European Council president Donald Tusk appealed Tuesday for a boycott of the upcoming presidential election in his native Poland, saying the postal vote the government has proposed carries health risks amid the coronavirus pandemic and would not meet democratic standards for free, equal and transparent elections.

Tusk, who served as Poland’s prime minister during 2007-2014, said in a video on Twitter that he would not “not take part in the voting procedure” for the May 10 balloting. He said the vote promoted by the right-wing ruling party “has nothing to do with an election.”

Poland’s governing Law and Justice party is pushing to have the election held as planned, arguing that an all-mail vote could take place safely. Law and Justice backs the reelection bid of President Andrzej Duda, who currently leads in opinion polls.

The candidate for the centrist Civic Platform founded by Tusk, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, said she would not take part in the vote, either. Despite the ruling party’s determination, the election could be held up. A bill regulating the proposed postal balloting is pending in the Senate and may not come to final vote until May 7. The opposition and a faction inside the government are in talks about postponing the vote.

The European Union parliament and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have also spoken against holding the election during the pandemic. Poland’s influential Roman Catholic bishops issued a carefully worded appeal to Law and Justice and opposition parties, asking them to “seek such solutions through dialogue that would raise no legal doubts” and would respect the democratic principles of “free and honest elections.”

Polish government gets pushback on postal presidential vote

April 25, 2020

WARSAW (AP) — The Polish government’s determination to move forward with a scheduled presidential election next month by making it an all-postal vote has sparked anxiety and anger amid the coronavirus pandemic, with critics slamming the plan as a threat to the health of both the public and Poland’s democracy.

Health experts say that voting by mail is much safer than doing it in person at polling stations during the pandemic. But with medical research ongoing, there is worry that mailed ballots may carry lingering traces of the virus that could potentially infect voters, postal workers and election officials tallying the returns.

Political concerns are probably even bigger than fears about safety in the run-up to Poland’s May 10 election. Critics have voiced suspicions that the conservative ruling party insisted on holding the presidential vote because its candidate is strongly favored to win now but could lose support during a post-pandemic economic downturn.

The leader of Poland’s main opposition party, Civic Platform president Borys Budka, said “the health and life of Poles” are at stake in whether the election takes place and “no responsible person would call for participation in such a vote.”

With little time for public agencies to prepare, it’s unclear if the switch to by-mail voting is legal or how the government intends to pull off a secure election that involves delivering ballot materials to around 30 million people and getting them back for counting.

If no candidate secures a majority, the already stretched postal service and election officials would need to repeat the process for a presidential runoff two weeks later. The head of the State Electoral Commission wrote on Twitter that the validity of an election organized in a rushed way could be called into question.

Civic Platform is calling for the election to be postponed by a year. A faction inside the government proposed extending the term of incumbent President Andrzej Duda by two years but not allowing him to run for reelection in 2022.

The ruling Law and Justice party says the date of the election is dictated by the Polish Constitution and that going ahead with the mail-in voting would be a democratic victory that poses no health risk. Duda and party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is regarded as the driving force behind the government, have argued their political opponents want a delay because they know they are going to lose the presidential race.

“People always blame the authorities under such circumstances,” Kaczynski recently said on state broadcaster Polish Radio 1. “Today, the opposition probably sees its chances as very small but believes that a year from now the situation will be different.”

The political opposition argues that holding the election as planned would be undemocratic because Duda’s challengers are limited to campaigning online and can’t meet with voters at rallies due to social distancing measures in place to curb the spread of the virus.

Politicians from Poland’s opposition parties have pointed out that Russian President Vladimir Putin even postponed a referendum on proposed constitutional changes that would allow him to remain in power until 2036 if he keeps winning reelection.

The European Union, which has tangled with the Law and Justice government over its moves to assert more control of the judicial system, also has expressed doubts that a postal vote organized at such short notice would be free and fair.

In a resolution approved last week, EU lawmakers called the Polish government’s plan “totally incompatible with European values” and said it “may endanger the lives of Polish citizens and undermine the concept of free, equal, direct and secret elections as enshrined in the Polish Constitution.”

Maciej Pach, a constitutional law expert at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, also thinks the postal vote would be unconstitutional because election law changes must be made at least six months in advance. Delivering a ballot to the home of every voter also constitutes an unlawful form of pressure to participate in the election, Pach said.

Postal workers have questioned whether they can deliver voting packages on time, especially when some 30% of the country’s 26,000 mail carriers are quarantined or on sick leave. Labor unions that represent postal workers say their members are afraid of handling the ballots and don’t have proper protection from the virus.

“They don’t want to expose their own health or life or that of their families,” Free Trade Union of Postal Workers chairman Piotr Moniuszko said. The election still is not a done deal. Poland’s Senate, which is controlled by the opposition, has not finished Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki has said that amid general public anxiety over the virus, senators should reject the bill.

Poland defends large government ceremony during lockdown

April 14, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s government on Tuesday defended officials’ attendance at commemorations for a fatal plane crash, despite its own ban on public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than a dozen government members, without protective masks, joined ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski in open-air ceremonies in Warsaw Friday for the 10th anniversary of the crash that killed Kaczynski’s twin, then-President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other prominent Poles.

An opposition party leader, Adam Szlapka, has notified prosecutors that attendance greatly exceeded the maximum permissible five people. Media and ordinary Poles have also been critical, saying the government showed contempt for its own restrictions imposed to fight COVID-19.

Several cyclists, walkers and at least one church have been fined the equivalent of almost 3,000 euros ($3,300) for infringing social distancing rules. Government spokesman Piotr Mueller argued Tuesday the ceremonies were part of government members’ duties and were “not banned” under regulations permitting people to go to work. He added these members of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s cabinet met face-to-face quite often.

However, weekly government sessions and news conferences are held remotely by video. Kaczynski also came under strong public criticism for taking a limousine Friday to his mother’s grave in Warsaw’s Powazki cemetery, which is closed to the public.

State-run TVP INFO said Kaczynski had sought and obtained special permission to enter the cemetery, and made the required payment for using the car. TVP INFO said Kaczynski also visited graves of the crash victims there.

German hospital luring Brexit-worried Polish nurses from UK

February 26, 2019

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Worried about Brexit? Come to Germany where you get better salaries, better weather, tastier food — and a shorter trip for visits home to Poland. That’s a German hospital’s pitch to Polish nurses working in Britain, who are among scores of European workers worried about what will happen to their work permits and right of residence if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on March 29.

The university hospital of Duesseldorf put out the ads in two Polish weekly papers in Britain late last month. It’s more than a friendly Brexit lifeline extended to citizens of a neighboring country: the hospital is in dire need of nursing staff and is hoping to fill that shortage with experienced professionals whose time in Britain may be running out.

“We have already received first inquiries,” Torsten Rantzsch, the director of nursing at the hospital in western Germany, told The Associated Press. He said the ads were deliberately written in a tongue-in-cheek style, but that “we also wanted to offer an alternative to Polish colleagues, namely the security of an EU country.”

Tens of thousands of European Union citizens currently living and working in Britain are concerned about what will happen to their status when the UK leaves the 27-country bloc. With just a month to go before Brexit day, there has been no clarity on their future status — and that uncertainty is worsened by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, 20,000 of the country’s 280,000 nurses have left their home country for Britain and elsewhere in Western Europe. The advertisement features Duesseldorf’s pretty skyline with the city’s landmark TV tower in front of blue skies and the Rhine River in the foreground, with the pitch written in both Polish and German.

The hospital decided to focus its campaign specifically on Poles, because many learn German in school and would be able to fit in quickly, Rantzsch said. “We deliberately kept the advertisement in German … because we wanted to address German-speaking nursing staff,” said Rantzsch, adding that the Duesseldorf university hospital needs to hire 100 additional nurses. Overall there’s a shortage of 70,000 nursing staff in German hospitals.

The hospital has already had good luck turning abroad to fill its shortage of skilled nurses. In 2012, Duesseldorf’s university hospital — and many other hospitals across Germany — started looking for nurses in Spain and other European countries with higher unemployment or lower wages at the time, like Italy, Hungary and Romania.

One of the first international recruits in Duesseldorf, Susana Garcia from Spain, first found out about the opportunity from the newspaper ads. She says she loves her job at the university hospital. “Working conditions here in Germany are super,” the 29-year-old nurse said. “We have full-time contracts even though we’re very young, we’ve been here now for six years.”

Grieshaber reported from Berlin. Vanessa Gera contributed from Warsaw, Poland.

Poland divided over having presidential vote during pandemic

April 03, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s parliament is preparing to vote Friday on legislation that would transform the country’s May presidential election entirely into a mail-in ballot due to the health risks of having public voting stations during the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposal by the populist ruling Law and Justice party to go forward with the May 10 election is controversial. Opposition candidates say having the election during the pandemic is undemocratic and it should be postponed. They argue that opposition presidential candidates stand no chance against conservative President Andrzej Duda because they cannot campaign due to a strict ban on gatherings. Duda, meanwhile, still profits from heavy coverage on state media.

Critically, even one faction in the ruling coalition is strongly opposed to holding the vote, raising speculation in Poland that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government could be toppled by the crisis.

Surveys show that a large majority of voters in this European Union nation of 38 million want the election to be postponed due to the pandemic. Kamil Bortniczuk, a lawmaker with the faction opposed to the voting, told the radio broadcaster RMF FM his group would try to convince ruling party lawmakers “that Poles today do not want elections in such conditions and they cannot be prepared so quickly.”

“There is not enough time to gain confidence among citizens in such a way of voting, and thus in the results of the election,” Bortniczuk said. Law and Justice officials insist that the current election timeline — voting on May 10 with a runoff on May 24 if no candidate wins 50% in the first round — is dictated by the constitution and should not be changed.

The leader of the ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, insisted Friday that to postpone the election “would be completely illegal.” He said “there is no reason to postpone it at the moment if it is conducted in a safe way from a health point of view.”

Poland has had far fewer coronavirus infections and deaths than fellow EU countries like Italy and Spain, but the numbers have been accelerating in recent days, reaching 2,946 infections and 57 deaths on Friday.

Some Polish media outlets have suggested the country’s true numbers are actually much higher due to low levels of testing. Polish media have also reported about people dying of pneumonia who most likely have COVID-19 but who do not show up in the statistics because they were not tested.

The debate over the mail-in vote shares similarities with efforts in the United States by Democrats seeking widespread voting by mail in the November presidential and congressional elections. So far, the Democrats have not gotten the billions of dollars in federal funding required to move to widespread voting but say they will keep pressing the issue.

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