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A united opposition to PiS in Poland? It’ll have to be another time…

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Poland – On Saturday, February 6, the main opposition party in Poland, the liberal Civic Platform (PO), presented the idea of a grand coalition of the opposition, called “Coalition 276”. Why 276? Because that is the number of deputies to the Sejm needed to overturn the presidential veto. The PO’s proposals were presented by its leader, Borys Budka, and by the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, who last year was the unsuccessful candidate in the second round of the presidential election against Andrzej Duda.

Displayed behind the two men were the logo of the new coalition as well as the logos of its members: the agrarian party PSL, Lewica (The Left) and Polska 2050 (Poland 2050), a party formed last year by Szymon Hołownia, a former television host who presents himself as a progressive Catholic. Hołownia won nearly 14% of the votes in the first round of the 2020 presidential election. Polska 2050 is overtaking the Civic Coalition (KO, a coalition of the PO and the progressive liberal Nowoczesna – Modern – party as well as the Greens) in polls, with both of them polling around 20% on average in January.

Monthly average of surveys taking into account undecided persons. Screenshot of the website)

The heirs of Donald Tusk therefore had to react to preserve their status as the main opposition party in Poland.

There was no shortage of proposals during their Saturday press conference, some of them quite radical: the complete renewal of the Constitutional Court, the complete renewal of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), the “depoliticization” of the Supreme Court (which is a court of cassation), the liquidation of the public 24-hour news channel TVP Info (accused of being a PiS propaganda channel), the abolition of the television license fee, etc.

In order to build a strong, stable and secure Poland, we need to restore the law and the rule of law. We will re-establish the Constitutional Court and the National Judicial Council. This is our commitment,” Borys Budka said. “It was the decision of the Constitutional Court that forced you to take to the streets [to protest against the abortion ruling]. Yes, your security has been compromised. (…) In the future, we want to guarantee the right to choose, so that dignity and respect for others are never trampled underfoot by the state. ”

Asked on February 7 by the newspaper Rzeczpospolita about such replacement of the members of the Constitutional Court, Borys Budka explained:

An entirely new Constitutional Court is needed, as this one has lost its legitimacy to issue rulings.

It is possible to change the Constitution and, for example, abandon the formula of the Constitutional Court as a separate institution and transfer its competences to an additional chamber of the Supreme Court.” As for the Judicial Council, he stated: “In the Senate, with the PSL, the Left and independent senators, we are working on a bill to repair the National Judicial Council. All indications are that this bill will be passed in the next session of the Senate. Judges on the judicial council should not be elected by politicians. The current ones were elected in violation of the Constitution, their election is legally invalid and a new selection procedure should be launched immediately. 

In reality, while the claim that the current judges were appointed to the National Judicial Council in violation of the Constitution is a highly questionable assertion, what is to be thought of the proposal to fully replace or abolish the Constitutional Court, when the opposition is questioning the legitimacy of the current Court because of three contentious appointments out of a total of fifteen members? The constitution would indeed have to be changed, but for that to happen there has to be a constitutional majority of 307 out of 460 deputies, and not just a coalition with the 276 deputies required to overturn the presidential veto.

I think a ‘307’ project sounds much more ambitious and realistic than the ‘276 Coalition’,” Włodzimierz Czarzasty, the leader of Lewica (The Left), reacted with sarcasm.

With a constitutional majority, it will be easier to clean up after PiS.”

The problem is that the PO leaders had not warned the parties of their future coalition of the proposal they were about to make public. Therefore, their supposed “coalition partners” protested vigorously against even the use of their logo for the press conference organized last Saturday by the Civic Platform alone.

Czarzasty explained that they were negotiating and had agreed not to talk about it until they had an agreement, but that “obviously Borys couldn’t hold it in.” As for Polska 2050, Szymon Hołownia’s right-hand man, Michał Kobosko, said in one of the most committed media outlets on the side of the leftist-liberal opposition, Okopress:

Borys Budka used our logo on the graphics. If the [Civic] Platform were seriously considering an alliance, perhaps not an alliance but rather an agreement, it would approach us and the other opposition parties first before making its plans public.”

What about the PSL, the former coalition partner of the PO in Donald Tusk’s governments? Marek Sawicki, an important figure in the PSL and former Minister of Agriculture under Donald Tusk, explained: “If Mr. Budka thinks that the discussions taking place at the level of the Senate, and possibly in relation to voting on various bills, are talks about a future coalition, it is clear that he did not understand the partners he spoke to. For neither the [main coalition partner in the Lewica group] SLD nor the PSL agreed with him on the 276 Coalition and its public announcement. ”

Thus, in contrast to what is happening in Hungary, where the opposition announced last year single candidacies against Fidesz for 2022, there is no united opposition against PiS in sight at the moment in Poland, and the announcement of a coalition made by the leaders of the PO alone will rather have accentuated existing divisions.