Presidential election via postal vote illegal - audit office

An investigation by the Supreme Audit Office (NIK) has found that plans to hold a postal vote on May 10 last year for Polish president were illegal. Leszek Szymański/PAP

Poland’s Prime Minister’s Office faces a possible criminal investigation after a damning report by the country’s Supreme Audit Office into last year's attempt to hold a presidential election by post.

An investigation by the Supreme Audit Office (NIK) has found that plans to hold a postal vote on May 10 last year for Polish president were illegal. The election was later cancelled owing to the pandemic.

“According to NIK, even exceptional circumstances, such as the pandemic, cannot be used as reasons to depart from constitutional rule of law,” Marian Banas, the head of NIK, said at a press conference on Thursday during which he presented a report into the affair.

Organising the election via a postal vote on the basis of an administrative decision should not have taken place and had no legal foundations, he said.

The cost of organising the failed elections, according to NIK, came to PLN 76.5 million (EUR 16.8 million).

The audit was carried out at the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Interior and Administration, The Ministry of State Assets and two state-owned companies - state postal services operator Poczta Polska and Polish Security Printing Works (PWPW). It covered the period from February to October 2020.

"In the period from April 16, i.e. from the moment of signing the decision on the elections by the Prime Minister, to May 9, the only entity authorised to organise and prepare elections for the President of the Republic of Poland was the National Electoral Commission,” Banas said.

According to the NIK report, the state assets minister was responsible for the organisation of the vote. Postal ballots were printed by PWPW and were to be delivered to the voters by Poczta Polska. However, the elections were postponed until June 28.

Banas said that NIK notified the prosecutor's office of suspected crimes by the management boards of Poczta Polska and PWPW.

The NIK report comes not long after the home of Banas’s son was raided by an anti-corruption unit. The raid prompted accusations that Law and Justice, Poland’s governing party, were trying to silence or intimidate Banas before the publication of the NIK report.

The government denied this, saying that the raid was part of a long and continuing corruption investigation.

Addressing the NIK report, in press statement on Thursday the Government Information Centre (CIR), said that all the decisions of the prime minister and the head of Prime Minister's Office to start technical preparations for the postal vote were fully legal.

"The prime minister has never ordered presidential elections or a vote by post,” the CIR said. “The aim of the steps taken were to help eligible groups whose life and health were endangered due to the pandemic (the elderly, people with disabilities), as well as those in isolation,".