Showdown Grips Poland as Party Leader Calls for New Constitution

  • Law & Justice leader calls for new constitution, referendum
  • Government embroiled in standoff with Constitutional Tribunal

Poland’s ruling party isn’t backing down from a standoff with critics at home and abroad.

In a speech on the eve of the 225th celebration of Poland’s first written constitution, Law & Justice leader and co-founder Jaroslaw Kaczynski dug in over the party’s conflict with the Constitutional Tribunal, saying it won’t accept a court that’s putting itself “above the law.” As Poland prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of its modern constitution next year, it’s an opportunity to start work on replacing the charter and hold a referendum on a new draft, he said in Warsaw on Monday.

“We might not find enough support to change the constitution during this term, but it’s time to start the work,” Kaczynski said. “We can ask Poles if they prefer Poland that we’ve all seen or the one that’s ahead of us.”

By training his sights on the political order in place since the fall of communism more than a quarter century ago, Poland’s most influential politician is casting aside the opprobrium directed at his party in the five months since it swept into power. Law & Justice fell out with European Union partners and the U.S. after passing legislation to consolidate power, including new rules for the Constitutional Tribunal.

Legal ‘Anarchy’

While defending his party’s respect for the law, Kaczynski made clear the rift with the court is deepening. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s government has refused to publish a March verdict by the tribunal ruling that Law & Justice’s revamp of the court was illegal.

“We respect the constitution but the constitutional court can’t put itself above the law,” Kaczynski said. “We won’t allow for a court-backed anarchy in Poland.”

The European Parliament said in a non-binding resolution last month 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.

“Before starting a discussion on changes in the constitution, Jaroslaw Kaczynski should respect and implement the tribunal’s rulings,” Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, a lawmaker from the opposition Nowoczesna party, said Monday.

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