Polish parliament approves investigation into abandoned 2020 postal elections

Poland’s parliament has approved the creation of a special commission to investigate the postal elections that the government tried to organise amid the pandemic in 2020 but which were eventually abandoned.

The incoming ruling coalition of opposition parties has pushed for the commission to be formed, arguing that the outgoing Law and Justice (PiS) government violated the law while trying to organise the postal vote. However, PiS, which insists it did nothing wrong, also yesterday voted in favour of forming the commission.

❗️Sejm podjął uchwałę w sprawie powołania Komisji Śledczej do zbadania legalności, prawidłowości oraz celowości działań podjętych w celu przygotowania i przeprowadzenia wyborów Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej w 2020 r. w formie głosowania korespondencyjnego. pic.twitter.com/0nIboJldzz

— Sejm RP🇵🇱 (@KancelariaSejmu) December 7, 2023

In spring 2020, during the early stages of the pandemic, the PiS government sought to organise presidential elections entirely by post rather than through in-person voting at polling stations. However, the plans were eventually abandoned

Later that year, a court found that the PiS prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, had acted in “gross violation of the law” by ordering preparations for the elections. He has challenged that ruling.

In 2021, the state auditor also found that officials had acted without legal basis and notified prosecutors of suspected crimes. However, prosecutors decided not to pursue charges, and their decision was upheld by a court last month.

Another ruling in 2021 found that the digitisation ministry had unlawfully transferred the personal data of Polish voters to the post office as part of efforts to organise the election.

The prime minister committed a “gross violation of the law” when ordering preparations for postal elections this year, a court has ruled.

Poland „cannot be considered a state of law if [state] organs infringe provisions of the law,” write the judges https://t.co/2wHxC1gvj4

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 15, 2020

PiS has always argued that it had a constitutional obligation to try to organise the scheduled elections safely and on time, and that it followed the law in doing so.

In October this year, PiS lost its parliamentary majority and is now set to be replaced in government next week by a coalition of opposition groups who have nominated Donald Tusk as their candidate for prime minister.

Last month, Tusk said that among the priorities of his new administration would be setting up parliamentary inquiries into controversial aspects of PiS’s government, including its alleged use of spyware against opponents, corruption in the visa system, and 2020’s so-called “envelope elections”.

The Polish government unlawfully shared personal data of all voters in Poland while attempting to organise a postal vote for last year’s presidential election, a court has ruled https://t.co/KGpQKb1MDm

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 24, 2021

Yesterday, the first of those commissions was formed, with all 446 MPs present from every parliamentary caucus voting in favour of investigating the abandoned 2020 elections.

The commission will have 11 members: four appointed by PiS, three by Tusk’s Civic Coalition (KO), and one each by Confederation (Konfederacja), the Polish People’s Party (PSL), Poland 2050 (Polska 2050) and The Left (Lewica). The latter three are part of Tusk’s coalition.

Morawiecki will be made to take “responsibility for the envelope elections he tried to conduct and for throwing 70 million zloty down the drain”, said opposition MP Cezary Tomczyk of KO, referring to the estimated losses incurred by the post office in its abortive effort to organise the vote.

The post office has been awarded 53 million zloty of state compensation for the costs of preparing May’s abandoned presidential election.

The government controversially sought to hold a postal vote amid the pandemic but was eventually forced to back down https://t.co/i2QCdDmWH0

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 5, 2021

“The envelope elections were a slap in the face of democracy,” added another opposition MP, Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus of The Left (Lewica), quoted by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

Przemysław Czarnek of PiS, however, said that the government had been “obliged to prepare elections in extremely difficult conditions” and that all its actions were legal. What would have been illegal, he argued, was not trying to organise the vote at all.

Czarnek claimed that the reason the elections eventually did not take place was that the opposition blocked them because its main candidate was trailing in the polls. This was achieved by local authorities, which were in opposition hands, refusing to hand over voter registration records, he said.

Sejm jednogłośnie na wniosek nowej większości powołał komisję do zbadania sprawy tzw. wyborów kopertowych. I bardzo dobrze. Na tej komisji pokażemy, jak Platforma torpedowała to, co w demokracji najważniejsze, czyli wybory Głowy Państwa. Robili to tylko dlatego, że ich…

— Jacek Sasin (@SasinJacek) December 7, 2023

Main image credit: Sejm (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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