Further Protests Against Government in Poland – but this Time with Apparent Support of President Duda and Solidarity Hero Wałęsa
Poles have turned out in their thousands to protest against an attempted government takeover of the courts, after President Andrzej Duda – traditionally a supporter of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party – made the shock announcement that he would veto the new law.
PiS introduced two bills into parliament last week, both to legislate on the sacking of judges and reappointments from the party stable. The move brought Poles onto the streets over the weekend, in all of Poland’s major cities. They were protesting against the concentration of all judicial powers in the hands of one man – Zbigniew Ziobro.
Mr Ziobro and backbench MP Jarosław Kaczyński, who leads PiS, had already drawn criticism following the illegal appointment of the former in the combined role of justice minister and prosecutor general.
The eyes of the world turned on Poland, with the European Union and Amnesty International among those to raise voices in concern about an attack on the separation of government and courts – one of the pillars of democratic society.
Inside Poland, opposition parties that have not traditionally seen eye to eye formed a loose coalition, announcing twice-daily meetings to coordinate policy to defend the Constitution and the rule of law in the country from the latest government attack.
It was announced unofficially that Lech Wałęsa, hero of the Solidarity movement that overthrew Poland’s last authoritarian government when communism fell in 1989, was on his way to Warsaw to join the parliamentarians in their fight.
And then, on Tuesday, afternoon, President Duda made his statement.
Mr Duda – who last week exercised his power of veto for the first time, to stop the PiS government taking control of local authorities – said: “I agree that reform of the National Judicial Council is needed. I am convinced that reform of the Supreme Court is also needed. But it should be reform carried out wisely and calmly”.
In a speech lasting just four minutes, the President demanded that PiS drop its call for Mr Ziobro to have the power to appoint judges. Only a three-fifths parliamentary majority could approve such appointments, said Mr Duda.
Echoing a similar mass protest in December of last year – and perhaps emboldened by the President’s words – thousands of Poles are right now on the streets of Warsaw. All media focused on the capital report that the protestors are attempting to block the Polish parliament. Police have set up barricades, and water cannon have been brought out – in a situation that one protestor has described as reminiscent of martial law.