PiS MPs pass legal changes
Poland’s lower house or Sejm has approved two judicial bills that the opposition says threatens the rule of law.
The nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) pushed through the bills that will give the executive greater power over the Supreme Court and the body that selects judges.
The changes lower the retirement age for the Supreme Court’s judges to 65 from 70, effectively forcing the immediate removal of 40 per cent of the judges.
The vote came as Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (pictured), 49, replaced the popular Beata Szydlo as prime minister.
Morawiecki has made a name for himself by taking on tax evasion and strengthening the welfare state.
It is thought to be the beginning of a wider government reshuffle.
Morawiecki has a background in international banking and it was argued he would be better able to explain Poland’s position to international critics, PiS said. But the opposition said it was just a ploy to distract attention from Friday’s legal changes.
Szydlo was expected to stay on as a deputy prime minister.
The PiS government remains highly popular due to low unemployment, increases in public spending and a focus on traditional Catholic values in public life.
After the parliamentary vote on the judiciary, the Citizens of the Republic of Poland group protested outside parliament. They carried a huge Polish flag, sang the national anthem and chanted “Freedom, equality, democracy”.
“Today’s [judicial] vote, today’s Sejm debate, is a dark day for the Polish democracy. Something shameful and disgraceful happened,” said Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the opposition Civic Platform. “PiS’s majority has broken the tripartite division of powers, and broken judicial independence.”
Since winning the 2015 election, the right-wing Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s PiS claims the Polish establishment has changed little since the fall of Communism in 1989.
Meanwhile, the EU has taken the unprecedented step of starting an inquiry into whether its “fundamental values” were at risk in Poland.
Law and Justice argues that the current legal system is unfair and inefficient while government critics say the proposals are part of a broader assault on judicial independence.
“These laws will further undermine the independence of the judiciary by subordinating it to the executive and the legislature and will thereby further erode the separation of powers and the rule of law,” Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.
Mateusz Morawiecki. Picture credit: Flickr