The Warsaw Voice » Politics » Monthly - December 13, 2015
Politics & Society
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Cabinet of Controversy
From its very first days in power, the new government—which, for the first time since Poland shook off communism in 1989, is formed by one political grouping, dominated by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party—has shown that it is bent on completely refashioning this country politically and economically.

Attesting to this is the choice of ministers who now form Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s Cabinet and the first decisions of the new government, strongly aided by President Andrzej Duda, who hails from PiS. The worst fears of the previously governing center-right Civic Platform (PO), which was defeated in October’s parliamentary elections, have come true.

During the election campaign, PO went out of its way to warn voters against several popular PiS politicians who, it said, symbolized everything that was wrong with the so-called Fourth Republic—referring to the period when PiS governed the country from 2005 to 2007, either single-handedly or together with its junior coalition partners—the radical rural Samoobrona group and the right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR). Despite such warnings, these controversial PiS politicians are now part of the new government and have landed ministerial jobs.

The post of defense minister went to Antoni Macierewicz, a politician whose views have horrified many leftist and liberal politicians for years. Once an admirer of Che Guevara, and later a radical anticommunist and a die-hard conspiracy theorist, Macierewicz has in recent years been the key proponent of a claim that the April 10, 2010 crash of the Polish presidential plane near Smolensk, Russia was the result of foul play rather than human error. The crash killed all 96 people on board the jet, including the presidential couple Lech and Maria Kaczyński as well as top Polish politicians, generals, social activists and artists. Macierewicz has consistently argued that the Polish president’s death may have been the result of either a plan by the Russians or some kind of plot devised within Poland’s own political circles by those opposing Lech Kaczyński and his policies. Now the most important decisions about the country’s defense policies will rest in Macierewicz’s hands.

Making a comeback to the Justice Ministry is Zbigniew Ziobro, a politician who during his previous term as minister and prosecutor-general was accused by the then opposition (the PO and the leftists) of repeatedly overstepping his authority and of seeking to influence the courts and prosecutors. According to leaks from the ministry, on his first day in office Ziobro apparently announced far-reaching personnel changes, essentially a plan to fire most senior officials appointed in the last eight years by the previous governing coalition of the PO and the Polish People’s Party (PSL). The opposition is sounding the alarm about the principle of the separation of powers being violated and about the justice system being abused for political purposes.

In addition, the opposition and many lawyers have slammed what they believe is a drive by Law and Justice, which now has absolute power in the country, to subjugate the Constitutional Court. One of the most important institutions in the country, the court is tasked with ruling whether decisions made by those in power are legal and permissible under the constitution.

PiS has amended a law (swiftly passed by parliament and signed into law by the president) regulating the court’s work, which means the party will be able to quickly replace 11 of the court’s 15 members during this parliamentary term.

Last but not least, Mariusz Kamiński, the founder and first head of the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA), has been appointed chief of Poland’s security services. A few months ago he was sentenced (the verdict is still subject to appeal) to three years in prison for abuse of power over an operation targeting a political rival of Law and Justice in 2005-2007. But this apparently was no obstacle to his return to government, especially after President Andrzej Duda, a doctor of law by education, pardoned Kamiński to “relieve the justice administration system of the need to further deal with this matter,” as he put it. All these appointments and political decisions put a question mark over Poland’s ability to function as a democratic country. There is no doubt that not only the opposition but also the public will be closely watching the course of events and those in power.

Witold Żygulski