Poland pres­i­dent ve­toes di­vi­sive court re­forms

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Poland’s pres­i­dent yes­ter­day ve­toed con­tro­ver­sial ju­di­cial re­forms that had prompted huge street protests and threats of un­prece­dented EU sanc­tions. Pres­i­dent An­drzej Duda’s veto was a sur­prise move as he is a close ally of the rul­ing rightwing Law and Jus­tice (PiS) party that had pushed the re­forms.

Duda said he had made his de­ci­sion af­ter con­sult­ing le­gal ex­perts at the week­end, when thou­sands of peo­ple took to the streets across Poland urg­ing him to veto pro­pos­als which crit­ics say threaten the rule of law. The re­forms now re­turn for amend­ment to par­lia­ment, where they re­quire a three-fifths ma­jor­ity-which the PiS does not have-to go through un­changed.

“I have de­cided to send back to par­lia­ment-there­fore, to veto-the law on the Supreme Court, as well as the law on the Na­tional Coun­cil of the Ju­di­ciary,” Duda said in a tele­vised an­nounce­ment. “This law would not strengthen the sense of jus­tice” in so­ci­ety, he said. The op­po­si­tion wel­comed his move. “It’s with­out a doubt a step in the right di­rec­tion,” said Kamila Ga­siuk-Pi­how­icz, a law­maker from the lib­eral Nowoczesna party. “It’s proof that pres­sure from cit­i­zens can work.”

Pol­ish free­dom icon Lech Walesa, a No­bel Peace lau­re­ate and for­mer pres­i­dent, said he “was pleas­antly sur­prised.” “The peo­ple have wo­ken up, young peo­ple have wo­ken up... We’ll do what we can so that these peo­ple (the con­ser­va­tives) get off the wrong path or that we man­age to re­place them,” Walesa said.

Can­dlelit protest

The re­forms would have in­creased po­lit­i­cal con­trol over the ju­di­ciary, spark­ing an out­cry amongst crit­ics who said the PiS party was seek­ing to re­duce the in­de­pen­dence of the courts. “It was never part of our tra­di­tion that the at­tor­ney gen­eral could in­ter­fere in the work of the Supreme Court,” Duda said. The role of at­tor­ney gen­eral has been held by the jus­tice min­is­ter in Poland since 2016, fol­low­ing one of the PiS’s ear­lier re­forms which sparked con­cern over the rule of law.

“I don’t want this sit­u­a­tion to de­te­ri­o­rate, be­cause it’s re­in­forc­ing di­vi­sions in so­ci­ety. There’s only one Poland. Poland needs peace and I feel re­spon­si­ble for it as pres­i­dent,” Duda said. He added that “a good re­form” of the ju­di­cial sys­tem was needed and said he hoped to ta­ble his own ver­sions of the laws within two months. Supreme Court chief jus­tice Mal­go­rzata Gers­dorf of­fered Duda her “in­tel­lec­tual col­lab­o­ra­tion” on the new texts, and pub­licly thanked him for the veto.

The Pol­ish se­nate had on Satur­day backed the re­forms, but they had still needed the pres­i­dent’s sign-off. Huge crowds of protesters held a can­dlelit protest out­side the Supreme Court on Sun­day night urg­ing Duda to veto the changes. Sev­eral hun­dred had gath­ered at the court again yes­ter­day.

Ur­gent PiS meet­ing

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion had threat­ened to halt Poland’s vot­ing rights over the pro­posed re­forms-a so-called “nu­clear op­tion” that the EU had never in­voked­while the United States had also ex­pressed con­cern. The Com­mis­sion’s spokesman, Mar­gari­tis Schi­nas, said com­mis­sion­ers would dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion to­mor­row.

The govern­ment has de­fended the re­forms, call­ing them in­dis­pens­able to com­bat cor­rup­tion and stream­line the ju­di­cial sys­tem.

An­drzej Duda

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