Polish Democracy Crisis Deepens as Ruling Party Picks New Judge

  • Opposition says appointment makes compromise more difficult
  • Vote marred by lawmaker admitting to breaking procedure

Poland’s ruling Law & Justice party picked Zbigniew Jedrzejewski to become a constitutional justice, rejecting opposition calls to delay the decision and find a compromise in the country’s democratic crisis.

The appointment comes a day after the European Parliament chided Law & Justice for undermining rule of law and eroding checks and balances in the formerly communist nation. Opposition lawmakers called for the decision to be annulled after one said she voted both for herself and a colleague, but the ruling party rejected the arguments and said it wouldn’t have prevented Jedrzejewski from being picked.

Poland’s government, in power since late 2015, has fallen out with the European Union after passing laws to consolidate power, including rules making it more difficult for the top court to overrule legislation. Opposition lawmakers said Jedrzejewski’s appointment, which still requires swearing in by the president to become official, complicates the dispute over the Constitutional Tribunal after Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski held talks with the opposition to find a “compromise.”

“This doesn’t help resolve this conflict, it deepens it,” said Borys Budka, a former justice minister from the opposition Civic Platform. “The word ‘compromise’ was only needed to give the impression that dialog has started.”

Shouting ‘Dictatorship’

At the heart of the dispute is Law & Justice’s overhaul of the Constitutional Tribunal. The party has refused to publish a March 9 verdict from the court ruling the revamp illegal in the official gazette, blocking it from taking effect. President Andrzej Duda, a former ruling party member, has not sworn in three justices picked by a previous assembly where the current opposition held a majority.

The European Parliament said in a non-binding resolution passed on Wednesday that democracy in Poland is imperiled by the constitutional standoff, highlighting alarm across Europe over Law & Justice’s push for greater state control. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, started a probe in January of the Polish government’s democratic behavior, the first in the bloc’s history.

Amid shouts of “dictatorship” from opposition lawmakers, the ruling party decided to hold only a short-form debate in parliament over Jedrzejewski’s appointment, which itself was included in the sitting’s agenda only on Thursday morning. All parties were given three minutes for speeches specifying how they would vote on the issue that has dominated the front pages of Polish newspapers for months.