Polish parliamentary elections were prepared well, but marred by intolerant rhetoric and bias in public media, international observers say
WARSAW, 14 October 2019 – The Polish parliamentary elections were administratively prepared well, but clear media bias as well as intolerant rhetoric detracted from the otherwise competitive process, international observers concluded in a preliminary statement published today.
“These elections were well organized ahead of the vote, but while voters stepping into the polling booth had numerous options available to them, their ability to make an informed choice was undermined by a lack of impartiality in the media, especially the public broadcaster,” said Ambassador Jan Petersen, Head of the ODIHR election observation mission. “The use of discriminatory rhetoric by a number of leading political figures is of serious concern in a democratic society.”
There was overall confidence in the election administration, which worked professionally and transparently, and met all legal deadlines related to the technical preparation of the elections. The legal requirement for women to comprise at least 35 per cent of candidates was fulfilled. But at the same time, most women candidates had little visibility and issues of gender equality did not feature highly during the campaign.
Election day was orderly, although the secrecy of the vote was not always enforced. Timely publication of preliminary results ensured transparency.
Nevertheless, shortfalls were identified in a number of areas. Bias in the media compromised voters’ ability to make a balanced decision ahead of election day. At the same time, freedoms of expression and the media are undermined by criminal penalties for defamation and limited access to public information.
In general, the campaign environment was highly polarized and became increasingly negative, while campaign messages containing nationalist and homophobic rhetoric gave rise to a sense of threat.
Some 30 million voters were eligible to cast a ballot, including in a place of temporary stay anywhere in the country. For the first time in parliamentary elections, the law allowed for citizen observation of the elections, addressing a previous ODIHR recommendation. However, regulations on campaigning by public officials and on the use of state resources in election campaigns remain insufficient, and campaign financing rules do not ensure adequate transparency or oversight. In addition, observers noted a lack of trust in the ability of prosecutors and courts to handle election-related complaints independently, following the merger of the functions of the prosecutor general with the minister of justice and other judicial reforms.
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) deployed a Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) to Poland on 10 September and will remain until 22 October. Its assessment includes the election’s compliance with OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards, as well as with national legislation.
For PDF attachments or links to sources of further information, please visit: https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/435941
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