August 3: Poland’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld the results of President Andrzej Duda’s narrow victory in presidential elections last month, 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 that the election be reassessed after Duda edged out Rafal Trzaskowski, the opposition candidate and the liberal mayor of Warsaw. Mr. Duda secured 51.03 percent of the vote, while Trzaskowski won 48.97 percent, in a mid-July runoff, The New York Times reported.
Opponents of Duda pointed to many irregularities during the campaign and 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.
Miroslaw Wyrzykowski, a former judge of the country’s constitutional tribunal, was among those who criticized the court’s decision. “The whole electoral procedure from the beginning until the end violates the Constitution,” he said in an interview. “We will have a president elected in an unconstitutional manner.”
The court’s decision was not a surprise in light of sweeping changes to the country’s judicial system introduced by the governing party, which 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 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 had ruled that an overwhelming majority of complaints did not fulfill the formal criteria, and were not even assessed on the grounds of their merit. “The European Court of Justice will rule on Sept. 22 whether the chamber of the Supreme Court fulfills the criteria of an independent court,” he said, “which will give us answers to many questions.”
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. Other opposition members of Parliament echoed his concern.