Tuesday, 25 September 2018

HN: Polish dispute over judiciary reform remains open

26 July 2017

Prague, July 25 (CTK) - Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed two key bills passed by parliament, opposing Jaroslaw Kaczynski's politics that diverts from democratic principles, but the dispute over the judiciary reform seems to remain open, Adam Cerny wrote in Tuesday's issue of Hospodarske noviny.

Duda's step was rather surprising as he has always been loyal to Kaczynski's Law of Justice, with the support of which he was elected president two years ago, until now, Cerny writes.

He says the vetoed bills introduce radical judicial reforms, which would in fact remove the separation of the judiciary and executive powers and undermine the balance that is one of the foundations of democracy.

The Polish democracy has become very fragile since 2015 when Law and Justice came to power and won an absolute majority in both houses of parliament, mainly due to the fact that a left-wing coalition failed, Cerny writes.

Kaczynski believes that the parliament majority gives his party a strong mandate to push through far-reaching changes. Such a political action unavoidably leads to clashes, Cerny says.

This is why there were street protests when the new Polish government immediately gained control over public media. This is why people demonstrated last autumn when the government proposed that women practically be prevented from having an abortion. In the first case the protests faded out, while in the second case the government withdrew its bill on abortion, Cerny writes.

At present, Duda could not ignore the fact that opinion polls showed that 70 percent of voters were against the government's judicial reforms. However, the controversy over the Polish judiciary is likely to remain open. Duda said laws must not divide society, but he supported the government's argument that remedial action needs to be taken in the judiciary. It depends on how Law and Justice and Kaczynski himself are going to react now, Cerny writes.

He says Kaczynski undoubtedly has an extraordinary position in Poland, although he does not rule the country and occupies no top constitutional post.

Kaczynski ran for neither president nor prime minister in the latest elections. When he ruled Poland along with his brother Lech in 2005-07, it turned out that his party can win voters' support, but that he himself drove them away, Cerny writes.

Kaczynski failed with the judicial transformation, but this will not stop him because he believes that he must change Poland. His conviction is so strong that he is ready to ignore facts, Cerny says.

Kaczynski argues that the judiciary needs to be controlled by the justice minister, who is also the prosecutor general, because communist judges still prevail at courts even 28 years after the fall of the communist regime. However, the average age of Polish judges is 38 years, Cerny writes.

Unlike most of the rest of the Polish political opposition, the Kaczynski brothers always considered a nonviolent end of the communist rule an unacceptable compromise, he says.

The dispute over the judiciary reflects a deeper conflict in Poland where a single party promotes politics that moves away from democratic principles in the name of the protection of the national interests and the national identity, like in Hungary, Cerny writes.

He says this undermines the separation of powers by their subordination to the current government's majority, which wants to push through such changes that would not be easy to abolish after new elections. This is apparent especially in Hungary, but Prime Minister Viktor Orban is far more skillful than Kaczynski in manoeuvring in face of the criticism from abroad, Cerny adds.

If there had been no large street protests in dozens of Polish towns, the bills would probably not have been vetoed. This shows the importance of resistant civic society and independent media, in this case private media since public media have become an instrument of the government's propaganda concerning not only the current political affairs but also the whole concept of Polish history, Cerny writes.

However, criticism from outside is important as well, even though Poland obviously did not face the extreme punishment for violating the principles of the rule of law, which is taking away its voting rights. Hungary nevertheless promptly declared that if any EU member country proposes this punishment for Poland, it would veto it, Cerny writes.

One must appreciate that five supreme representatives of the Czech judiciary made an exceptional joint statement, in which they labelled the proposed changes in the Polish judiciary an attack on the foundations of a law-abiding democratic state. This is a clear message that there would be a strong resistance to possible variants of the Polish or Hungarian scenarios in the Czech Republic, Cerny writes.

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