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Tensions at the top of the Polish state

Wojtek Radwanski Agence France-Presse President Andrzej Duda, foreground, and Prime Minister Donald Tusk, December 13, 2023.

Bernard Osser – Agence France-Presse in Warsaw

7:36 p.m.

  • Europe

Poland is in the grip of a standoff between the new pro-European government and the head of state allied with the populist nationalists ousted from power in October, against a backdrop of legal chaos inherited from the old team.

During the eight years that the Law and Justice (PiS) party ruled the country, until its defeat in the parliamentary elections at the end of 2023, “institutions and the rule of law were violated in Poland with the help of the president and, today, the new government is trying to restore them,” Marcin Zaborowski, an expert at the Globsec think tank, told Agence France-Presse.

But, he immediately added, the conservative head of state, Andrzej Duda, continues to defend “both his own position and that of his camp”.

As early as 2017, PiS had undertaken a series of controversial judicial reforms, seeing them as necessary to eradicate corruption among judges.

Brussels then accused Poland of violating the rule of law and blocked its access to the European recovery fund.

“Legal dualism”

Arriving at the helm in mid-December, Donald Tusk's pro-European coalition promised to return to the rule of law, and the new prime minister does not hesitate to accuse Mr. Duda by name of the current situation.

“It is the president who is the author of this constitutional and judicial confusion,” he declared on Friday in an interview with three television channels.

Since the first decisions of the new team in power, particularly in the areas of justice and the media, tension has continued to rise.

The Head of State, whose prerogatives are relatively limited, has the right of veto in this regard, a veto that the current government is not able to counter.

Mr. Duda, applauded by the PiS, who, despite his recent electoral setback, remains a leading political actor, can also count on several key institutions, still controlled by this party, including the Constitutional Court and, partially, the Supreme Court .

According to a number of observers, Poland in practice has two public media directorates, two national prosecutors or even two Supreme Courts, which do not recognize each other and clash.

“We actually have a legal dualism,” Mr. Zaborowski emphasized. In the Supreme Court, we have one chamber that decides that the president is right and another that decides that the president is wrong,” he noted.

Arrested at the presidential palace

Illustration of this legal chaos, the latest political crisis, linked to the incarceration last week for a case dating back to 2007 of two former PiS deputies, including a former minister.

Holder of the Interior portfolio in the previous government, Mariusz Kaminski, and his close collaborator Maciej Wasik were arrested at the presidential palace where they had taken refuge at the invitation of the head of state .

“This is a situation unknown in any other democratic country, when the president hides people convicted by the courts and does not recognize the verdict of the courts,” explained Stanislaw Mocek, head of the Collegium Civitas private university in Warsaw.

In 2015, the two men were given prison sentences for having compiled a false dossier against a senior political official eight years earlier, when they headed the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

They were then pardoned by Mr. Duda, even before the court decision came into force, which was later called into question by the Supreme Court.

The Constitutional Court, controlled by the PiS, then rejected the Supreme Court's verdict, authorizing the head of state to assert that his pardon was still in force.

The latter went so far as to initiate a new “pardon procedure”, different and longer than the previous one.

“Terror” of the rule of law

“The president is adding fuel to the fire, while claiming to want to find a compromise. The only possible compromise is the rule of law,” stressed Mr. Mocek. Andrzej Duda, for his part, did not hesitate to publicly denounce “the terror of the so-called rule of law”, at a time when Mr. Tusk sees it as a “primordial principle” that he will follow.

The standoff between the pro-European team and the populist nationalist opposition, supported by the Polish president, is likely to last, with the latter's mandate only coming to an end in 2025 .

“The new government has already proven that it will not back down on its reforms, while the president has shown that he will not hesitate to veto them,” said Mr. Zaborowski.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116