It cannot be stressed enough how extremely significant PiS’ actions are: we are witnessing the most important events in Polish politics since 1989 that might mean a complete rejection of the democratic mechanisms introduced by governments of Tadeusz Mazowiecki and his successors. One has to remember, that the new statute of the parliament is already in making: it will not only legalize current behaviour of the ruling party, but will reduce rights of the opposition even further. The hijacking of the media has already started – not only by taking over public radio and TV, but also by banning companies who are at least partially owned by the state and state institution to pay for adverts and announcements in the media that is not seen by PiS as “Polish enough”. Polish democracy is balancing at the crumbling edge of the abyss as we speak. If it falls, the results might be unpredictable, not only for Poland itself, but for the rest of Europe as well.
PiS’ blitzkrieg is moving so swiftly, that opposition MP’s barely have time to read proposed legal acts, not to mention to analyze them and prepare for discussion. But it does not matter, as no discussion is allowed anyway. Breaking all the customs of the Polish parliament, PiS heads of commissions and speakers of the parliament simply do not allow opposition MP’s to express any doubts or even to make any formal comments. If they managed to submit anything it is instantly revoked using PiS majority. Everything that is not in line with PiS changes is deemed “not constructive” and thus the person speaking has their microphones switched off. Those who refuse to stop speaking are facing hefty financial fines. The representative of Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, who was invited to the proceedings, left the building after raising his hand in vain for 8 hours – he was not allowed to speak despite multiple prompts from the opposition MP’s. The crushing review of proposed changes by parliamentary legislation changes was to no avail as well – “dully noted, but we are to go anyway” seems to be PiS official position.
The meeting of the commission working on the new legislation regarding Constitutional Tribunal has changed into parody of itself. An MP from .Nowoczesna filed a proposal to delay further proceeding of the commission till 7th of January. To the great surprise of PiS, her proposal was accepted by 12 to 11 votes. That caused panic – obviously the chairman of the commission haven’t noticed, that some of PiS’ MP’s were away for the moment. But this was quickly fixed in a most shameless way – Stanisław Piotrowicz of PiS filed a proposal to deem the voting invalid under a false claim, that one of MP who voted is not the member of this commission. Despite that it was an obvious lie, as can be seen on both TV and Parliamentary cameras, his proposal was accepted thanks to additional PiS MP’s who were hurried back into the room. Then, despite protests from the opposition, in the repetition of the voting, the .Nowoczesna’s proposal was revoked. When Platforma Obywatelska questioned legality of those actions, it’s MP was silenced by the PiS head of commission on the basis that his objection are “unconstructive”. And that’s how the new legislation on the constitutional tribunal made it to the general assembly of the Sejm, where, in similar atmosphere, was passed through within hours. As a final spit in the face of the opposition, both in Parliament as well as on the streets, the PiS MP’s welcomed this result with chanting “democracy”.
New legislation regarding the constitutional tribunal will change it into strictly decorative body. The main changes are as follows:
1. So far, Tribunal could deem certain cases as a priority due to their importance. Now it will be bound by the chronological order in which they were submitted.
2. Tribunal has to restart every single case it is working on at the moment and proceed on it under new rules.
This means, that even if today’s act will be reported to the Tribunal, in best case it will able to adjudicate on it in several years from now, after it will work through the backlog created by 2. In order to further dig the Tribunal under mountain of backlog cases, the new rule was introduced that requires 3 or 6 months (depending of the case) delay before the hearing. To prevent Tribunal from analyzing today’s act as a highest priority, PiS introduced an unusual rule, that makes the amendment to be binding with immediate effect.
Further changes are breaking the constitutional rule of the independence of the judges, as they will give the president or the government right to start disciplinary procedures against judges (up till now they can only be started by the general assembly of the Tribunal judges). And if this “suggestion” is not enough for the Tribunal judges to understand what verdicts they will be expected to provide, there is always a security valve: the government will be able to refuse publication of the verdict if it suspects that it was achieved “with flagrant violation of rules”. But even if Tribunal will make it to the cases that are important for PiS, the new rule requiring 13 of 15 judges to take part in most proceedings and that decissions have to be made by 2/3 majority. This not only means, that by having just few judges in the Tribunal, PiS can block all the rulings. This is also a dirty trick, as for Tribunal to be able to undertake any proceedings now, it will have to allow illegally elected PiS judges in order to make a quorum. In this light, revoking the Tribunal’s right to deem President to be unable of holding his post (for example when he falls into coma or goes crazy) seems like a insignificant nuisance.
As this scandalous legal act was today passed by Sejm, it will have to be now accepted by Senat, the upper chamber of the parliament, which is expected to be a mere formality, since PiS holds 61 of 100 seats there. Finally the act will have to be signed by the president, who have no other option, as since he broke constitution on several occasions now, keeping PiS in power is the only chance for him to escape responsibility.
For PiS, new legislation on the Constitutional Tribunal is crossing the Rubicon. The only hope to undo this great constitutional swindle will be for people to go on the streets. Nobody would be surprised to see that PiS has already prepared relevant legislation to curb citizen’s freedoms – voices can already be heard about the danger of imposing strict surveillance of the Internet and bringing the legal system under the direct supervision of minister of Justice, thus breaking it’s constitutional independence. But will people, who were hoping for revenge on the establishment and looking forward for their 500zł of child benefit, be ready to go on the streets anytime soon? Komitet Obrony Democracji might be strong, but will it be strong enough to entail general public yet? As with the pace of changes introduced by PiS, when people go to the street forced by the crash of the economy (as PiS economical reforms are commonly see as a recipe for disaster), it might already be too late, as in those few years, Poland might become a Lukashenko-style pariah of Europe.
Picture: Public Domain (via Wikipedia).
This article was published in Britske Listy