The state of votes
Towards the end of liberal democracy?
Frédérik Lachaise|translated by: Marie Hubert
Search for a lost culprit
Martina Hachoud| translated by: Marie Hubert
Frédérik Lachaise | translated by: Marie Hubert | 2017. January 13. 19:51
As a result of the last parliamentary elections, the image of Poland changed radically. Instead of a developing country , especially since the democratic transition, Poland is today characterized by Euroscepticism and a rather sovereigntist political line.
In May 2015, the candidate of the conservative party Law and Justice (PiS), Andrzej Duda, had a spectacular success in the presidential election. The second largest party of the Polish political scene began regaining the power in Poland, after constituting for 8 years a very strong and aggressive opposition to the Liberal Government (civic platform, PO) in coalition with the Polish People’s Party (PSL). At the end of October, the PiS definitely dominated the political scene in Poland, with almost 40% of the votes in the parliamentary elections (with a 50% abstention rate!). It became the first political party in Poland to win the absolute majority of seats after 1989. The party, apart from some very conservative aspirations, such as the absolute ban on abortion, adopted a particularly populist, leftist economic program. But after these elections, it quickly became apparent that the party, constituting the largest right-wing political formation, will take advantage of this domination of public life to carry out radical reforms. And, unfortunately, these reforms are not always favourable.
For several months, in the streets of the biggest polish cities, many events, each of them gathering tens of thousands of Polish people, have been regularly organized by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (Komitet Obrony Demokracji, KOD). This organization itself is not a political party, but it is close to the Liberals of the PO and the new Liberal Party. The latter, 'Modern' (Nowoczesna), was founded by Ryszard Petru in November 2015, after the outbreak of the conflict opposing the Government of Beata Szydlo (which is of the same political color as the President Andrzej Duda) on one side, and the Constitutional Court on the other. Nevertheless, despite these gatherings supported by the PO, and by new political groupings gaining in popularity, the Government of the PiS carries on achieving their own objectives which are harmful to the democratic system and to the economy of Poland, as well as to the relations of the country with other States and international organizations.
Post-communist Poland, an example of a very successful democratic transition so far, began to move away from Western European democratic ideals. This manifests in a serious constitutional crisis. The crisis started after President Andrzej Duda declined to appoint three judges elected to the Constitutional Court by the former Parliament (dominated by the PO), but appointed instead three other judges. In addition, the new law passed by PiS members of Parliament (MPs)severely limits the independence of the Constitutional Court, though this body is one of the most important safeguard of the rule of law in Poland. From now on, it will be easier for MPs to dismiss the judges of the Court. It will also be a new competence for the President and the Minister of Justice. In addition, the decisions of the Court will need to be passed by a qualified majority of 2/3 of the votes instead of a simple majority. This law was deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, however the decision was not published by the Government. The worsening constitutional crisis which currently concerns the Polish State is the source of many doubts about the existence of the separation of powers, and of the rule of law in Poland.
Moreover, the Government of the PiS seems to no longer respect the independence of the media. As a result of the management changes of public media, many journalists have been fired and replaced by others that are more favorable to the Government's policy. Polish public media adopted an explicitly pro-Government speech, particularly by neglecting the demonstrations organized by the KOD. It is clear that public media resort to blatant manipulation, showing images that suggest a smaller number of demonstrators. Generally, any criticism of the actions of PiS politicians is ignored by the public channels. The latter contribute to the historicization of the current issues propagated by the Government. The most controversial example concerns the charges of Lech Walesa. The former head of the opposition movement Solidarnosc and firstPresident elected by universal suffrage after 1989 was accused of cooperation with the secret service of the Communist regime. Many believe that these accusations, based on archives that have not yet been analyzed by experts, are used by the Government and the media to distract public opinion of the issues related to the current political crisis.
Unfortunately, the political regime of the Conservative Party also changes the image of Poland on the international scene. The Polish State was, since the democratic transition, considered as a regional leader in political, social and economic development, aspiring to become an important member of the Western political (EU) and military (NATO) communities. However, after the last parliamentary elections, the Polish Government leaves no doubt on the adoption of a sovereigntist and Eurosceptic political line. Thus, it is now classified in the same category as the controversial regimes of Victor Orban in Hungary and Robert Fico in Slovakia, especially in the context of a very strong opposition from all these States to hosting migrants from the Middle East. What hurts even more the reputation of Poland on the international political scene are the proceedings launched by international organizations concerned with the radical changes in this country. Poland became the first State in which the European Commission launched the procedure to safeguard the rule of law. At the same time, the European Council, following a request from the polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Witold Waszczykowski, sent to Warsaw the Venice Commission, its advisory body of experts in constitutional law. The latter, after reviewing the Polish constitutional crisis, made their decision in which they demanded that the Government respect the decisions of the Constitutional Court.
However, the ruling party neglects the concerns and opinions of the different international bodies. Whether they hear negative reactions from the European Union, the Council of Europe or of a major part of the Western press, they ignore the fact that the Polish political situation is a cause for concern. The questioning of constitutional values, the limitation of the independence of the media, the distancing of Poland from Western democratic ideals, are making the character of the political system of the PiS very upsetting. Are we approaching the end of democracy in post-communist Poland?
Martina Hachoud | translated by: Marie Hubert | 2017. January 13. 19:54
To understand the current Polish situation, it would be best to deviate from the media and tendentious political arguments. The epicenter of this debate is around the Constitutional Court and around a democracy put to the test. That is why it is necessary to know well the backstage of this conflict between the two opposing political camps to understand the situation.
October 2015. Before the elections, the Civic Platform made the Constitutional Court one of its main targets in order to maintain at least a little bit of power in a Poland reformed by PiS, hoping that the appointment of the five judges would be done without much disturbance. However, this party had the right to nominate only three of them and the next two were supposed to be chosen by the new Parliament (the Parliament after the elections). Thus, the Civic Platform, fearing to lose the elections and knowing that the influence of the Constitutional Court was worth it, prepared a new law allowing the party to change the judges’ team. Nonetheless, when describing the conflict in the Constitutional Court, most journalists and public figures tend to focus on the fact that the PiS majority chose the judges that they did not have the right to choose. The second point creating controversy in the public opinion is obviously the short amount of time given to choose the judges, so that deputies did not have enough time to give their opinion on the candidates. Though, the most important fact is that these persons are chosen by a PiS Parliament. It is quite possible to experience problems. To give an example, the lack of agreement on the verdicts of the judges due to the politicization of public people questions the sovereignty of public opinion. However, it should be emphasized that the possibility of choosing the judges of the Constitutional Court residing in the skills of the Lower House translates into the fact that the parliamentary majority has some influence on the resolutions and decisions of the Constitutional Court. And this 'pressure force' is not an over-exploitation of skills but a legitimate use, because the judges of the Constitutional Court, since the acceptance of the Polish Constitution in 1992, are chosen by MPs acting according to their political goals.
The conflict around the Constitutional Court envolves two major political forces in Poland that both created a vicious circle in this Central European country, also involving the European scene. This conflict has prompted other parties to rethink the crisis; and that is why, for instance, the Kukiz 15' opposition party wants to create a compromise between these two camps. This is also the decision of the Venice Commission. This recommendation seems to go against the will of a daily newspaper, "Gazeta Wyborcza", which counted on the support of its arguments by an overwhelming democracy and an arriving dictatorship. The Venice Commission’s decision does not find that the conflict crippling the Constitutional Court was created by this power-hungry dictator named Kaczynski. It considers the current and precedent powers, who started this political quarrel, to be at fault. In addition, the Commission does not claim the obligation to enforce the Court’s judgement and accept the appointment of three judges of the other parliamentary cadence, but rather encourages the finding of a compromise. This compromise also seems to be sought after by the Polish society. However it turns out that the Civic Platform, Nowoczesna nor the KOD intend to seek a compromise and find reconciliation. Because the essential factor of their popularity is this “anti PiS” discourse, “at any cost”. Of course the fault is on both sides. The PiS, instead of sticking to its d”e- communisation”, “re--polonisation”” and liberalisation of Poland from the former discourse "Targowica" should acknowledge its mistakes, redo its policy and not lead the Polish people towards a break and a no-win situation.
What also seems to play in the current conflict is the vocabulary used by the opposition. We are witnessing an exaggeration of expressions, such as "the dictatorship of Kaczynski", '’the collapse of democracy’', or 'the lack of freedom of expression'. Public opinion and public debate were not exemplary either, but the impressive crisis lately seems to exceed limits. This exaggeration of the notions of the opposition, which seems to be increasingly far from power, is trying to stand in the 'force of influence'. Even before the election of the current President, Andrzej Duda, the opposition and its supporters played on emotions and increased protests. Expressions calling Duda "a puppet of Kaczynski", 'a man from nowhere' or 'a crazy Christian wanting to establish theocracy' were fairly frequent. When Andrzej Duda won the elections, public opinion related to the establishment of PO badly welcomed the power of Duda. This dissatisfaction worsened after the victory of the PiS. After its victory, the remote power elite decided to depreciate their position in the sample of at least Liberal supporters. Because even if the PO could not maintain his power and avoid the PiS party reforms, it wanted to at least delegitimize their position and their power in society, by naming them "disciples of PO" or better: "the adversaries of PiS”. Thus, the problem of the current political scene is a struggle between the "progressive" poles, named with contempt by the "conservatives" as lemmings and on the other side the "obscurantist followers of PiS', 'the followers of father Rydzyk." However, this hyperinflation of the terms does not have a positive influence not only on the domestic situation but also on the vision of Poland on the international scene.
Finally, we have to think about the causes of this rise of the right-wing, not only in Poland but in Europe in general, to analyze the situation with a cold blood and rethink values on which politicians, philosophers and civils based their European society. For the right-wing, the lack of a conservative voice and the lack of political pluralism in the European Union are the main problem. A liberal speech praising Europe today seems to uproot the opposition in politics. In Poland, this split between the right and the liberal camps is increasing tensions between PiS and PO followers. That is why it is essential for the Polish people to rethink their situation and move towards rationality. The Polish were able to fight for their freedom for 123 years since 1772, they were able to deal with the German occupying forces during the Second World War and to break free of Soviet domination in 1989. However, current events seem to show that they do not take advantage of this freedom, and that the creation of a coherent community is only possible in front of a common enemy. This rupture in society is also caused by the ideological differences of the Polish nation. Although these differences exist, the media try to amplify them and prevent both sides to reconcile. Because contrasts in politics make politics - but the current problem of Poland is above all the lack of meetings and contact between the two opposing camps.
Frédérik Lachaise|translated by: Marie Hubert
Martina Hachoud| translated by: Marie Hubert
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