Warsaw (AFP) - Poland has two weeks to set a new presidential election date, the national electoral commission said after certifying that the poll scheduled for Sunday did not happen.
Poles had been due to cast their ballots to elect a head of state, but because of a political crisis set off by the coronavirus pandemic, polling stations never opened and turnout clocked in at zero on an election day that will be one for the history books.
The EU member of 38 million people found itself in this bizarre "Twilight Zone" predicament in which the presidential ballot had formally neither been postponed nor cancelled, because the government and opposition were unable to agree on a constitutional and safe solution.
At day's end, the electoral commission adopted a resolution stating that it "had not been possible to vote for any candidate" and thus the speaker of parliament now had two weeks to set a new election date, which must fall within 60 days of her announcement.
Such a solution will save the country from having to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the validity of the election that had been scheduled for May 10, commission head Sylwester Marciniak told reporters.
The governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party had anticipated last week that the top court would rule on the issue and had even assumed it would declare the election null and void.
- 'Legal absurdity' -
"That sounds like an order for the Supreme Court regarding how it should rule," Warsaw-based political scientist Stanislaw Mocek told AFP at the time.
"We're in a fog of legal absurdity," he added, echoing the widespread head-scratching and concern around the country.
Many constitutional experts have since expressed doubt as to whether the Supreme Court even has the power to issue such a verdict.
Marciniak said that because no votes were cast, "we have a situation similar to when there is an absence of candidates or only one candidate and no election is held."
Leftist lawmaker Tomasz Trela summed up the Kafkaesque situation on Facebook: "Today's the day, election day without the election."
Earlier Sunday, Trela and a fellow leftist politician had shown up with homemade ballots at a school that normally doubles as a polling station and asked why they were unable to vote.
"The polling station is closed, which means someone cancelled the election. But it's unclear who did or on what basis," he told reporters.
The anti-government protest movement Citizens of Poland organised an event in the capital Warsaw, saying Poland needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
- 'Cabaret' -
"The state is unable to carry out the election scheduled for today. Or the voting or whatever you want to call it, this cabaret that they've arranged for us," movement co-leader Pawel Kasprzak told reporters.
Mocek, the political scientist, said the government "should have declared a natural disaster to lawfully postpone the election" under the constitution.
The PiS has explained away its refusal to do so by saying Poland's coronavirus situation is not severe enough to warrant the move.
The party has also implied that were it to declare a natural disaster, multinational corporations present in Poland would claim huge sums in compensation that the state would be hard-pressed to pay.
But the liberal opposition and many observers also see another rationale for why the government was set on the May 10 date, despite opinion surveys showing that three out of four Poles wanted a deferral.
The opposition, which has long called for a delay over concerns that a free, fair and safe election is impossible under lockdown, believes the PiS wants the ballot held as soon as possible so that its ally and incumbent Andrzej Duda wins.
The president is the frontrunner and could secure a second term in the first round of the vote, but he risks losing support once the economic effects of the pandemic are felt.
Last month, the PiS-controlled parliament passed a law stating the election would be held by postal vote only in a bid to quiet health concerns while maintaining the date.
But the opposition-controlled senate sat on the legislation for weeks before rejecting it, leaving the government no time to organise the election.