Duda takes PiS on with veto
Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda (pictured), is legally non-partisan but was backed by the Law and Justice (PiS) government during his 2015 election. He has surprised Warsaw by saying he would veto three bills put forward by PiS, which critics fear would end judicial independence.
“I have decided that I will send back to Sejm [Lower House], which means I will veto the bill, on the Supreme Court, as well as the one about the National Council of the Judiciary,” Duda said on Monday.
The bills sparked eight days of protests across Poland and led to threats of sanctions from the EU and US.
One of the PiS bills would give MPs control over the National Judicial Council, which appoints judges. The second legal change would force all Supreme Court judges to resign, except those kept on by the president, acting on the decisions of the justice minister. And the third bill would allow justice minister to fire the heads of lower courts.
Few observers expected Duda to oppose his political sponsors.
“It’s a huge blow for [PiS founder Jaroslaw] Kaczynski, who values loyalty above all else,” said Wawrzyniec Smoczynski, the head of Polityka Insight, a think-tank in Warsaw. “He has operated all along on the assumption that Duda is dependent on him, and Duda’s move has very publicly shown that this is no longer the case.”
In the first time he has defied the PiS will, the president said that there was no post-1990 Polish tradition for a prosecutor general to have such large powers and that he would not agree to that now.
He added that he had taken advice from specialists before making his decision, including lawyers, sociologists, politicians and philosophers. He said the most influential adviser had been Zofia Romaszewska, a leading anti-Communist dissident in the 1970s and 1980s.
Romaszewska reportedly told him: “Mr President, I lived in a state where the prosecutors general had an unbelievably powerful position and could practically do everything. I would not like to go back to such a state.”
Rafal Trzaskowski of the main opposition Civic Platform said: “The most important thing is that for the first time the president has stood up against his political family. Previously his moves were halfhearted, but today he really showed that he can think independently,” he argued. “Duda’s move, although it does not meet all of our demands, opens up all sorts of possibilities. Let’s hope the president will stand firm.”
Andrzej Duda. Picture credit: Wikimedia