WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish President Andrzej Duda has said he will not organise large campaign meetings in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus, raising questions over how the outbreak will affect the election due in May.
The presidential election will decide whether the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party can fully implement its agenda, including a further overhaul of the judiciary that has put it at loggerheads with Brussels, as the president can veto laws.
Duda is a PiS ally and is ahead in the polls, consistently scoring over 40%. If no candidate scores more than 50% in the first round there will be a runoff vote, which most polls show Duda narrowly winning against any opposition candidate.
“I have made the decision that I will not organise large meetings in connection with my presidential campaign, because these are meetings that hundreds of people come to,” state news agency PAP quoted Duda as saying late on Monday.
“It seems to me that the risk that this may lead to the spread of coronavirus is too great.”
The country of 38 million people has reported 17 cases of coronavirus. No one has died from the virus in Poland.
Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University, said the decision could benefit Duda.
“For the president this is quite comfortable, because he is widely recognised and he doesn’t have to go and show himself,” she said.
“It makes things much more difficult for the other candidates and also opens the possibility that the elections might not be held on the scheduled dates.”
The opposition’s leading candidate Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska said on Twitter that she too was putting big rallies on hold.
The spokesman for Andrzej Duda’s campaign, Adam Bielan, said that all trips on the president’s campaign bus had been cancelled but he would continue to travel around the country in his capacity as president.
Poland said on Monday that it would introduce checks on its borders in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. It has also said that events involving over 1,000 people should be cancelled.
On Tuesday, the deputy head of the president’s office Pawel Mucha told private broadcaster Polsat News that he currently saw no reason to change the date of the elections, with the first round due on May 10, and a runoff pencilled in for May 24.
Reporting by Alan Charlish and Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alison Williams