Polish lawmakers on Friday approved a controversial draft law on Russia’s alleged influence in Poland, which is aimed at the opposition and could affect the results of autumn parliamentary elections.
The new law provides for the creation of a state commission of inquiry Russian influences in Poland. It is widely seen as a target for former prime minister Donald Tusk, now the main leader of the opposition Civic Coalition, as early campaigning for the fall election is underway.
The lower house, or Sejm, voted 234-219 with one abstention to approve the law proposed by the right-wing ruling party. It still needs the approval of President Andrzej Duda to enter into force. Whether Duda would approve it was unclear.
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Tusk, who is not an MP, was present in the hall during the vote.
He later said that those who voted for the law were “cowards” who “violated good parliamentary manners and the fundamental principles of democracy out of fear of losing their power, out of fear of the people, out of fear of responsibility (they should individuals) after they lose an election’.
He said the opposition had a strategy ready for the commission and called on Poles to join him in pro-democracy marches on June 4, the anniversary of the partially free elections in 1989 that ousted communists in Poland.
Critics say the bill violates Poland’s constitution and a citizen’s right to an independent court, and that it is a prime example of how the ruling Law and Justice party has been using the law for its own purposes since coming to power. in 2015.
They see the bill, dubbed Lex Tusk, as an attempt to create a powerful and unconstitutional tool that will help Law and Justice continue to hold power even if it loses control of parliament in elections this fall.
“This order violates all constitutional foundations,” said Slavomir Patyra, a constitutional expert at the Maria Składowska-Curie University in Lublin.
Patira said the proposed commission would investigate and prosecute “anyone who criticizes the current political or economic order” because the definition of “Russian influence” is vague.
Law and Justice accuses Tusk of being too friendly to Russia as prime minister between 2007 and 2014 and of making gas deals beneficial to Russia before he left for Brussels as president European Council between 2014-19.
Opposition senator Krzysztof Brayza said the new law was “a Soviet-style idea that stems from the mentality of (Law and Justice leader) Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the attempt to organize a witch hunt against Donald Tusk and exclude him” from Polish politics.
Tusk and Kaczynski are longtime political rivals.
The bill envisages the creation of a state commission with the powers of a prosecutor and a judge. He can impose penalties, including a 10-year ban on officials who oversee the spending of public funds.
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The lower house also debated another bill proposed by the ruling party that lowers the required quorum of the Constitutional Court. It is intended to speed up work on the legislation, which has been slowed by disagreements within the court, which has come under political control. Among those laws are new regulations that could unlock huge EU funds that Brussels has frozen amid a conflict with Warsaw over the rule of law.
About 35 billion euros ($37 billion) in EU grants and loans are at stake as Poland’s government continues to spend huge sums on social bonuses, pensions and weapons as the war in neighboring Ukraine continues.
The vote was postponed to the next session of the parliament.
During a heated debate in parliament earlier this week, one of the ruling party’s key lawmakers, Tadeusz Cimanski, said the bill to reduce the Constitutional Tribunal’s quorum was crucial because the party wanted to “force the court … to issue a certain ruling that we expect”.
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The government’s policies, especially in the judicial system, have already put Warsaw at odds with the EU, which claims it runs counter to the principles of the rule of law and democracy. Two bills could add to the divisiveness.