Conservative Polish President Wins Re-election

Polish President Andrzej Duda flashes V-signs after addressing supporters with his wife Agata as exit poll results were announced during the presidential election in Pultusk, Poland, on July 12, 2020 . JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP
Polish President Andrzej Duda flashes V-signs after addressing supporters with his wife Agata as exit poll results were announced during the presidential election in Pultusk, Poland, on July 12, 2020. JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP

 

Polish President Andrzej Duda has squeezed past his europhile rival to win re-election, official results showed on Monday, but the narrow victory puts his allies in the populist right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party government on the back foot.

Seeking close ties with US President Donald Trump, Duda has vowed to tighten already highly restrictive laws against abortion and has campaigned against LGBT rights.

The incumbent won a new five-year term with 51 percent in Sunday’s vote against Warsaw’s liberal mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who had promised to mend ties with the European Union.

Experts said the result means the governing PiS party, which has been criticised at home and abroad for controversial reforms of the judiciary seen as eroding democratic freedoms, will face a more confident opposition.

“It’s a small victory,” said Kazimierz Kik, a political expert from Kielce University.

“President Duda has won the election but the real success is for Rafal Trzaskowski and the opposition which has gained ground,” he said.

Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a Warsaw University political scientist, said the high mobilisation of young people for Trzaskowski pointed to “a new opposition force”.

But she warned there was also a “realistic” risk that Poland could begin to resemble Hungary, which has been accused of drifting towards authoritarianism under nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

‘Poland divided in two’

The government faces the immediate challenge of dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, which is pushing Poland into a recession — the country’s first since the fall of communism three decades ago.

“Poland is split down the middle,” said Witold Orlowski, a professor at Warsaw University of Technology Business School, predicting “a very difficult period” ahead.

“On the one hand, even this slim victory is a PiS success and will allow it to continue to govern, at least technically,” Orlowski said.

“On the other hand the social and economic situation will deteriorate and a large part of the electorate will blame the PiS.”

On the foreign policy front, experts said Duda’s close ties with Trump could also spell trouble ahead if the US president fails to win re-election in November.

Duda’s support was particularly strong among older voters in rural areas and small towns and in the east of the country, while Trzaskowski has performed well with a younger electorate in larger cities and western regions on the border with Germany.

“The result of these elections is a Poland divided in two with a not-so-rosy future, as it will be difficult to ease the division and to restore the relationship between the two sides,” analyst Kazimierz Kik told AFP.

White-red vs rainbow

The election had been due to be held in May but was delayed because of the pandemic.

Duda won the first round of voting on June 28 with 43.5 percent against 10 challengers, including Trzaskowski, who came second with 30.4 percent.

Ahead of Sunday’s run-off vote, Trzaskowski campaigned hard to sway voters who backed other opposition candidates.

Four days before the first round, Duda became the first foreign leader to visit the White House since the start of the pandemic and received praise from Trump for doing an “excellent job”.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro characterised the second round vote as “a clash of two visions of Poland, the white-red and rainbow-coloured,” referring to the colours of Poland’s national flag and the symbol widely used by the LGBT community.

Duda has railed against “LGBT ideology”, likening it ot a new form of communist brainwashing, and has vowed to change the constitution during his second term to rule out adoptions by same-sex couples.

 

AFP

Could Malawi’s Historic Re-Run Election Inspire Africa?

(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 18, 2019 opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) leader and presidential candidate Lazarus Chakwera (L) waves to the crowd as he arrives at the last campaign rally, in Lilongwe, ahead of general elections. – Chakwera on June 27, 2020 was declared winner of this week’s presidential election re-run with 58.75 percent of the vote according to the electoral commission said, AFP reports. GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP.

 

The opposition triumph in Malawi’s recent landmark election re-run after last year’s fraudulent polls were overturned could spur similar democratic change across the continent, analysts and historians say.

Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party comfortably won the June 23 election with 58.5% of the vote — beating Peter Mutharika, whose re-election last year was nullified by the courts over “widespread and systematic” irregularities.

Chakwera’s official inauguration is set for Monday, to coincide with the country’s 56th anniversary of independence from Britain.

The election set the impoverished African country apart from many on the continent, making it only the second sub-Saharan African country to have presidential election results overturned in court, after Kenya in 2017.

It was also the first time in Africa that an election re-run has led to the defeat of an incumbent.

The unprecedented political feat was credited to a cohesion of several powerful forces — including the resilience of the judiciary that handed down the historic judgement.

In extraordinary scenes, Constitutional Court judges came sporting bullet-proof jackets and under military escort to deliver the ruling on February 3 overturning Mutharika’s re-election.

That was after six months of hearing evidence during a groundswell of civic society-led street protests.

“For a year they persevered with mass demonstrations against the wanton theft of their votes despite threats and repression by the beleaguered and discredited government,” said historian Paul Tiyambe Zeleza.

The election result showed that despite the power of incumbency, an organised and smart opposition can win, Zeleza said.

“This election will certainly influence subsequent elections across the African continent,” said Grant Masterson, programme manager at the Johannesburg-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

He expects that elsewhere on the continent “opposition leaders will become emboldened by this success… and ramp up post-election protests against results that did not go in their favour, combined with court challenges.”

Opposition leaders from neighbouring countries are drawing inspiration, hailing the “professionalism” displayed by Malawian institutions and “citizens’ vigilance”.

– ‘Example for Africa’ –

Nelson Chamisa, Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-A) leader, failed in his legal bid to have the courts overturn the 2018 election which he said was stolen from him by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

He saluted Malawi’s judiciary and security services “for acting as a bulwark against authoritarianism and defending the constitution”.

The election is “a source of inspiration to democrats across Africa and a reminder to those with determined leadership, people power, unity of purpose and an undying commitment to democratic values, that no barrier is insurmountable,” said Chamisa in a congratulatory message to Chakwera.

Zambia’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who has lost two consecutive elections, hailed Malawians for having “set a great example for Africa!”

Masterson said Malawi “reminds us that even in the most peaceful of countries, the citizenry will only tolerate so much before they raise their voice in protest”.

“When enough citizens stand up, in Malawi, or Sudan and elsewhere, they will eventually bring about change,” he said.

Nic Cheeseman, a professor of African democracy at the University of Birmingham agreed.

“The impressive performance of key institutions, and the country’s democratic progress itself, is rooted in the hard work of civil society groups and the efforts of hundreds of thousands of Malawian citizens,” Cheeseman said.

Chakwera, the 65-year-old former evangelical preacher, sailed to victory thanks to a nine-party electoral alliance.

Opposition elsewhere in Africa should learn that “dialogue, not division, can offer a genuine path to change, especially in those countries with less favourable institutional conditions,” wrote Chatham House’s Africa programme projects assistant, Fergus Kell.

“Neighbouring Zambia would certainly do well to heed this example ahead of a pivotal election of its own in 2021.”

AFP

Kanye West Announces 2020 Presidential Run

In this file photo US rapper Kanye West attends the WSJ Magazine 2019 Innovator Awards at MOMA on November 6, 2019 in New York City. Angela Weiss / AFP
(FILE PHOTO) US rapper Kanye West 

 

Kanye West, the entertainment mogul who urges listeners in one song to “reach for the stars, so if you fall, you land on a cloud,” claimed Saturday he is challenging Donald Trump for the US presidency in 2020.

“We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION,” the born-again billionaire rapper tweeted as Americans marked Independence Day.

West offered no further details on his supposed campaign, four months before the November election, and it is unclear if he has officially registered to run for office.

Hundreds of thousands of Twitter users reacted to the star’s announcement and “Kanye” shot to become the top trending term on the platform, although many questioned whether the volatile rapper would go through with his plan and others claimed it was a publicity stunt.

His wife, reality star Kim Kardashian, replied with a US flag emoji, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote: “You have my full support!”

The 43-year-old has mentioned running for president several times and he said last year he would run for president in 2024.

West long ago broke ranks with most of the left-leaning entertainment industry to loudly voice his support for Trump.

In 2018, they met in the Oval Office — a surreal tete-a-tete that included a hug from the rapper as well as an on-camera rant featuring an expletive not often repeated for the White House press corps.

That year, West also delivered a lengthy soliloquy to a president who many deem racist, telling him he loved him — to the dismay of many Democrats and fellow artists.

But in 2019, during an interview with Zane Lowe of Apple Music’s Beats 1 show, he said his support for Trump had been a way to razz Democrats — and announced his own presidential ambitions.

“There will be a time when I will be the president of the US, and I will remember… any founder that didn’t have the capacity to understand culturally what we were doing.”

It was unclear to whom the artist was referring.

The announcement came days after West, who has taken a very public turn towards Christianity in recent years, released a new song, “Wash Us In the Blood,” along with an accompanying video including imagery from recent anti-racism protests.

West has also opened up about his mental health, particularly his struggle with bipolar disorder, telling talk show host David Letterman he feels like he has “a sprained brain, like having a sprained ankle.”

Since 2018, Kardashian has formed her own contacts with the White House as she champions criminal justice reform: she has successfully lobbied Trump to pardon a sexagenarian woman for a non-violent drug offence.

For weeks now Trump, criticized for his response both to the coronavirus pandemic and to anti-racism protests, has been lagging in the polls behind his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

There was no immediate response to West’s announcement from either candidate Saturday.

AFP

Edo Election: Over 2,200 Delegates To Vote In PDP Primary

'Dont Drag Us Into Your Crisis', PDP Asks APC To Seek Restitution
A file photo of chairs at the venue of a PDP congress.

 

 

At least 2,200 statutory delegates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will vote in the party’s governorship primary election for the Edo State Governorship poll.

The party announced this in a statement on Wednesday, a day before it conducts the exercise to select its governorship candidate for the September 19 election.

It explained that the delegates for the primary included party members selected from all wards across the 18 local government areas of the state.

FULL LIST: DELEGATES-LIST-FOR-EDO-2020-GOVERNORSHIP-PRIMARY-ELECTION-1

“The Electoral Guidelines for primary elections of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) provides that, for the purpose of nominating the party’s candidate for the office of governor of a state, each ward chapter of the party shall elect three ad-hoc delegates at a Special Ward Congresses, at least one of whom shall be a woman.

“Similarly, each of the Local Government Areas shall elect a national delegate for the same purpose,” the PDP Directorate of Organisation and Mobilisation said.

According to the party, both categories of delegates along with others will participate in the special state congress for the nomination of the governorship candidate of the party.

“In compliance with the above, and in keeping with its promise of a transparent, free, fair and credible primary, the NWC hereby publish the underlisted members of the PDP in Edo State as Delegates that will nominate the governorship candidate of our party ahead of the September 19, 2020, Governorship Election in Edo State,” it added.

However, the names of 18 members of the Executive Committee in Etsako West Local Government Area of the state were left out of the list.

The PDP primary in Edo will hold on Thursday, after it was earlier shifted from June 19 and 20 to June 23, and later to June 25.

Among the aspirants in the exercise include the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, who is seeking re-election for a second term in office.

One of the PDP aspirants who had picked up the party’s expression of interest and nomination forms had stepped down for the governor.

Edo Election: Human Rights Activist, Isokpan Emerges AAC Candidate

AAC Candidate, Edith Isokpan emerges as the party’s candidate ahead of the Edo State governorship election on September 19.

 

Ahead of the September 19 governorship election in Edo State, a human rights activist, Edith Isokpan, has emerged the candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC).

Isokpan, also known as a philanthropist, won the party’s primary election after defeating another aspirant, Uyi Osunde.

The exercise which held on Wednesday in Benin City, the state capital had total votes cast of 179 by delegates accredited to vote.

READ ALSO: Ondo State Deputy Governor Raises Alarm Over Withdrawal Of Police Escorts

While Isokpan polled 162 votes, Osunde got 12 votes.

Following her victory, the AAC candidate commended the party for the matured organisation of the primary.

Malawi Calls For Calm As It Tallies Presidential Re-run votes

Electoral officials and political party monitors count votes during the presidential elections during the presidential elections at the Mighty Caspia polling station in Area 23, a residential location in Lilongwe on June 23, 2020. – Malawians return to the polls on June 23, 2020 for the second time in just over a year to vote for a new president after Peter Mutharika’s re-election was annulled over rigging. AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP.

 

Malawi’s electoral commission appealed for “peace and calm” on Wednesday as it counted ballots following a historic poll to re-elect a president after Peter Mutharika’s victory was overturned.

Voters in Malawi went to the polls on Tuesday for the second time in just over a year after the Constitutional Court dramatically ruled that last year’s polls were fraught with “grave and widespread” irregularities.

Results from the May 2019 election sparked countrywide protest that lasted months, a rare occurrence in the impoverished southern African country.

It took the top court six months to sift through the evidence before concluding that Mutharika was not duly elected and ordered fresh elections.

The chairman of the Malawi Electoral Commission, Chifundo Kachale, said tallying of the votes from 5,002 polling stations was underway.

“We appeal to Malawians to maintain peace and calm as the vote-counting continues,” Kachale told a news conference in Blantyre.

Mutharika has accused the opposition of inciting violence following isolated incidents which the police and electoral commission said had not affected the election.

“It’s obvious that the opposition is doing this,” he told reporters after voting in Blantyre, claiming some of his party monitors were “chased away, some were beaten”.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Crisis Sinks Global Economy In 2020, Collapsing GDP 4.9% – IMF

“It’s obviously people that are afraid of the will of the people that are engaging in these barbaric acts,” he alleged.

Mutharika, 79, did not take the decision of the constitutional court lightly when it overturned last year’s poll.

He accused judges of working with the opposition to steal the election through what he dubbed a “judicial coup d’etat”.

He had narrowly won the now-discredited election with 38.5 percent of the ballots, beating his closest rival Lazarus Chakwera, 65, by just 159,000 votes .

Victory in the rerun will be determined by whoever garners more than 50 percent of the votes — a new threshold set by the top court.

Some 6.8 million people were asked to vote between Mutharika, Chakwera and an underdog candidate, Peter Dominico Kuwani.

The electoral commission has until July 3 to unveil the results, although the announcement is widely thought likely to come this week.

Kachale says the commission will only announce results after dealing with all the complaints.

AFP

Main Candidates In Malawi’s Presidential Election Re-Run

This combination of file pictures created on June 19, 2020, shows (from L), Malawian President Arthur Peter Mutharika arriving at the Biwi triangle in Lilongwe on June 17, 2020 and Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President Lazarus Chakwera addressing supporters during celebrations outside the MCP Headquarters in Lilongwe on February 4, 2020. – They are the leading Malawian presidential candidates in the upcoming national elections re-run. AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP.

 

Here are profiles of the two leading contenders in Malawi’s presidential election re-run:

– The elderly incumbent –

President Peter Mutharika, 79, won his first mandate in the 2014 election, two years after his elder brother Bingu wa Mutharika died after having a heart attack while in office.

Last year he was elected for a second five-year term but the result was annulled by a top court, which found the vote flawed by irregularities, including use of correction fluid on tally sheets.

The court said he would stay in office until fresh elections it ordered were held.

He spent much of the last few months fighting to keep his job, labelling the court decision a “judicial coup d’etat”.

Last month the Supreme Court threw out his appeal against the Constitutional Court’s landmark ruling.

Mutharika responded by accusing judges of working with the opposition to steal the election.

A former law professor at Washington University, Mutharika is a constitutional expert who served as a minister of justice, for education, science and technology, and as minister of foreign affairs.

He came to power on a promise to tackle corruption after a scandal erupted in 2013, revealing looting from state coffers by government officials, ruling-party figures and businessmen.

READ ALSO: Global Trade Set To Shrink 18.5% In Q2, Defying Worst Fears – WTO

But his first term was tainted by graft allegations, and dominated by food shortages, power outages and ballooning external debt, which have damaged his popularity, as well as concerns about his health.

In 2018, a public outcry ignited over $200,000 (178,000 euros) that he had allegedly received from a businessman who was under investigation for a multi-million-dollar deal to supply food to the police.

As leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Mutharika has had a mixed economic record since 2014. Growth has slowed from 5.7 percent to four percent but inflation has fallen sharply from 23 percent to 9.3 percent at the end of 2019, according to IMF figures.

His attempts to impose lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus in April were torpedoed by a court which said he had failed to announce any measures to cushion the vulnerable in the impoverished country.

“If you give me another five-year term, this country will develop to the level of South Africa or Singapore, London, America or Canada,” he promised at a campaign rally.

– The confident opponent –

Former evangelist preacher Lazarus Chakwera, 65, leads Malawi’s oldest party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which is the main opposition party and ruled Malawi for three decades from 1964 to 1994 under Hastings Banda’s one-party rule.

Chakwera led the party into the 2014 elections, coming second to Mutharika at the polls.

The defeat, since annulled, meant that the MCP has lost all five presidential elections since 1994 but Chakwera has made great efforts to re-energise the party’s base, and on the campaign trail he declared he was confident of victory.

“The people want change. They’re demanding change and they see us as the face of change,” he told AFP.

For the re-polling, Chakwera obtained the high-profile support of Vice President Saulos Chilima, former president Joyce Banda and several other small political parties.

Chakwera was born in Lilongwe to a subsistence farmer whose two elder sons died in infancy. He was named Lazarus after the biblical character who was raised from the dead.

He took degrees in philosophy and theology, was president of the Malawi Assemblies of God from 1989 to 2013 and then became the MCP’s leader.

Chakwera, who speaks with a deep American accent, said he loves reading and music — traditional, Western, country and gospel.

“I love to sing even when I am by myself, in the shower,” he said.

AFP

Facebook Lets Users Block Political Ads, Aiming To Quell Outcry

 

Facebook is allowing users to turn off all political ads in a move aimed at quelling criticism of the leading social network’s hands-off approach to election misinformation.

The feature being rolled out in the United States from Wednesday and some other countries will give Facebook and Instagram users the option of blocking paid ads from candidates and political groups.

The initiative announced late Tuesday comes amid intense pressure on Facebook and other social media services to stem the flow of false information while remaining open platforms for political debate.

Facebook has steadfastly rejected calls to fact-check politicians including a plea from Democratic White House hopeful Joe Biden to clamp down on what he called rampant disinformation from President Donald Trump.

Facebook vice president of product management and social impact Naomi Gleit said the initiative expands on the social network’s “ad preferences” options which already allowed users to see fewer political ads.

She said the feature was being made available “as part of our preparations for the 2020 US elections” and would be offered “in countries where we have enforcement on ads about social issues, elections and politics” later this year.

Adam Chiara, a University of Hartford professor who follows social media and politics, said Facebook’s announcement may be a public relations move with little real impact.

Chiara said Facebook would be able to tout “a victory for not censoring speech” but that it “does nothing to help move away from the toxic speech on the platform.”

“I’m curious how many people will actually opt-out,” Chiara said. “Many Facebook users don’t even change their default privacy settings. How many will take the time to do this?”

Shannon McGregor, a University of North Carolina professor of political communication, said Facebook is “outsourcing” its content moderation to users and at the same time limiting the reach of political challengers and newcomers.

“This is likely to exacerbate the incumbency advantage,” McGregor said.

The researcher said that despite concerns about negative and malicious ads, many political messages are “benign,” promoting discussing and enabling lesser-known candidates to reach voters.

“I don’t think policies allowing users to opt-in or out of advertising are positive for democracy,” she said.

– Registering four million –

As part of the same announcement, Facebook said it would launch what it called “the largest voting information effort in US history” with an election hub and a goal of registering four million voters.

“We’re encouraging people to vote,” Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote in USA Today.

“I believe Facebook has a responsibility not just to prevent voter suppression — which disproportionately targets people of color — but also to actively support well-informed voter engagement, registration and turnout.”

The efforts by Facebook appeared to address concerns that it allowed misinformation and foreign influence campaigns to target voters in the 2016 US election, in some cases aimed at discouraging voters or giving them inaccurate information.

Amid a toxic political environment, Twitter last month began labeling or limiting the reach of comments from Trump deemed to be inciting violence or promoting misinformation.

That prompted an angry response from Trump, who signed an executive order which could lead to more oversight of social media, despite doubts about its enforceability.

Zuckerberg in his statement Thursday reiterated Facebook’s policy which generally exempts politicians from fact-checking.

“Ultimately, I believe the best way to hold politicians accountable is through voting, and I believe we should trust voters to make judgments for themselves” he said.

At the same time he added that “we have rules against speech that will cause imminent physical harm or suppress voting, and no one is exempt from them.”

Edo Ready For Governorship Election Despite COVID-19, Says Obaseki

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki holds a love briefing on COVID-19 by the State Response Team in Benin on April 19, 2020.

 

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, says the state is ready for the governorship election despite the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

The governor made this known on Wednesday during the Citizens’ Townhall on Voting Amidst COVID-19 which aired on Channels Television.

According to him, the state government is determined to manage the current 336 cases of the virus, while being on the watch for any new infections.

READ ALSO: Citizens Townhall On Voting Amidst COVID-19

Obaseki noted that the first round of the pandemic will peak in the third week in June, adding that his administration will manage the public health situations in the state before the election on September 19.

“We are ready for the gubernatorial elections this year. Fortunately, it is going to be taking place on September 19.

“From the epidemiological survey we have done in Edo State, we believe that the first round of the epidemic will peak about the third week in June and then subsequently, we hope that we don’t have reoccurrences.

“That way, we should be able to manage the public health situations in our state before the elections on September 19,” he said.

Speaking further, the governor noted that the state government is committed to the screening, testing and treatment of residents of the state as measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Obaseki also said that the state has “perhaps one of the largest testing capacities in the country” which he believes will boost the fight against the virus.

The governor also noted that his administration has screened over 300,000 of the residents in the last six to eight weeks, a development which he says is responsible for the increased number of cases in the state.

Burundi’s Ruling Party Candidate Ndayishimiye Wins Election

Evariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi’s Presidential candidate of the ruling party the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), casts his ballot during the presidential and general elections at the Bubu Primary school in Giheta, central Burundi, on May 20, 2020. AFP

 

Burundi’s ruling party presidential candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye on Monday was declared the victor of the bitterly disputed election, with 68.72 percent of the vote.

The election commission, which released the official results live on Burundian media, said that his main opposition rival Agathon Rwasa of the National Freedom Council (CNL), had garnered 24.19 percent of the vote.

The commission said that 87.7 percent of registered voters had turned out to cast their ballots in Wednesday’s election, which also included the election of members of parliament and local officials.

Rwasa and his party have already contested the outcome of the election, saying early results were a “fantasy”, and accused authorities of arresting their agents, and preventing them from observing the vote and taking part in counting.

The election took place without any international election observers, and with scant regard to the coronavirus outbreak which is being largely ignored by the government.

READ ALSO: Burundi To Vote In Tense Poll Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Burundi has been increasingly isolated since the 2015 election of President Pierre Nkurunziza to a disputed third term in office.

Violence which erupted during that poll left at least 1,200 dead and saw 400,000 flee the country.

Persisting turmoil saw the country cut off by foreign donors and its economy plunge, while accusations of major human rights violations have escalated.

AFP

New Zealand Says COVID-19 Will Not Stop September Election

New Zealand Bans Assault Weapons After Christchurch Massacre
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to journalists during a press conference at the Justice Precinct in Christchurch on March 20, 2019. Marty MELVILLE / AFP

 

New Zealand’s Electoral Commission unveiled safety measures Tuesday designed to allow a national election to proceed as planned in September despite the coronavirus threat.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the September 19 election date in January, before the global scale of the contagion was apparent, and has repeatedly said she does not plan to move it.

With New Zealand set to end a seven-week lockdown in the coming days, the Electoral Commission said it had held discussions with health authorities about how to stage the vote safely.

“This year’s election will be different because of COVID-19, a range of measures will be in place to help keep people safe,” it said.

Chief electoral officer Alicia Wright said these included queue management, physical distancing, hand sanitisers alongside ballot boxes and protective gear for people staffing voting stations.

Advance voting and postal voting will be encouraged, particularly for the elderly and those with existing medical conditions.

The guidelines did not cover other election activities such as campaign launches, party rallies and door-to-door canvassing, all of which are likely to be significantly affected.

Ardern said she had only considered the election “in passing” as she deals with the COVID-19 crisis.

READ ALSO: Virus Hope In US As WHO Hails Global Progress

“The election feels — in terms of days, weeks and months — a lifetime away,” she told reporters on Tuesday.

“As you’d imagine in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s not something that I have yet turned my mind to.”

Opinion polls taken earlier this year before the pandemic reached New Zealand showed Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party trailing the conservative National Party slightly but on track for a narrow victory with the help of coalition partners.

Since then, the 39-year-old leader has won global praise for her decisive coronavirus response, which has seen the nation of five million record only 21 deaths.

No opinion polls have been officially released during New Zealand’s lockdown but leaked research by Labour’s pollster, UMR, last month had Ardern’s party heading for a landslide, with 55 percent support to National’s 29 percent.

It put Ardern’s approval rating as preferred prime minister at 65 percent.

New Zealand will hold two referendums alongside the September 19 election on legalising cannabis and allowing euthanasia.

AFP

Zero Turnout As Poland Holds Bizarre Ghost Election

Szymon Holownia, a candidate for Polish President wears a face mask as he walks in front of the Polish Supreme Court in Warsaw, on April 30, 2020.  JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP.

 

Poland’s election day Sunday will be one for the history books as polling stations remain closed and turnout will clock in at zero due to a political crisis set off by the coronavirus pandemic.

The EU member of 38 million people has found itself in the bizarre “Twilight Zone” predicament in which the presidential ballot is formally neither postponed nor cancelled, because the government and opposition were unable to agree on a constitutional and safe solution.

“We’re in a fog of legal absurdity,” Warsaw-based political scientist Stanislaw Mocek told AFP, echoing the widespread head-scratching and concern.

The government “should have declared a natural disaster to lawfully postpone the election” under the constitution.

The right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party 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.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Cases In Russia Surpass 200,000

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 current frontrunner and could secure a second term in the first round with 50 percent of the vote, but his support would likely drop 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.

On Wednesday, the PiS and its allied Agreement party announced that the poll would be declared null and void after the fact.

“After the May 10, 2020 date passes and the Supreme Court annuls the election as expected in light of the fact that the vote will not have taken place, the speaker of parliament will announce a new presidential election for the first available date,” they said in a statement.

AFP