Polish president seeks experts’ advice on controversial bill targeting opposition

Legislation awaiting Andrzej Duda’s approval would establish state commission to probe Russian influence, but critics see it as power grab by ruling Law and Justice party

Poland's opposition leader and former prime minister Donald Tusk watches lawmakers vote to approve a contentious draft law in parliament in Warsaw, Poland, May 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Poland's opposition leader and former prime minister Donald Tusk watches lawmakers vote to approve a contentious draft law in parliament in Warsaw, Poland, May 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland — Aides to Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said Saturday that his experts have begun analyzing a highly contentious law on Russia’s alleged influence in Poland, ahead of his decision on whether to sign it.

Parliament on Friday approved the law, proposed by the right-wing ruling party, that is seen as targeting the opposition. It may affect the outcome of fall parliamentary elections in which the ruling Law and Justice party is seeking a third term.

The law would establish a state commission for investigating Russian influence in Poland and on national security. It is generally seen as targeting former prime minister Donald Tusk, now the leader of the main opposition Civic Coalition, at a time when early campaigning for the elections is underway.

The law cannot take effect without Duda’s approval, due within 21 days. It had caused an outcry, and the left-wing opposition has appealed to Duda to reject it, describing it as “shameful” and saying it may lead to wide-ranging witch hunts. Many independent experts say it violates the constitution.

An aide to Duda, Lukasz Rzepecki, said that “initial analyses have begun.”

“We will be taking a very, very careful look at the bill and we will be analyzing it from the legal point of view but also in relation to the current political situation,” Rzepecki said.

Poland’s lawmakers vote in parliament, in Warsaw, Poland, May 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

He was apparently referring to the war that neighboring Ukraine is fighting against Russia which has long been considered a security threat in the region. Warsaw’s military and political support for Kyiv has drawn angry reactions from Moscow.

Rzepecki said Duda’s team was aware of the “plenty of negative emotions” around the bill.

However, another aide, Pawel Szrot, said that Duda believes that “the more there is transparency in public life, the more explanations are offered on controversial matters, the better.”

Poland’s most powerful politician, ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said he would not influence Duda’s decision but he has a “quiet hope” that he will sign the bill.

Duda can either sign the bill, veto it or send it to the Constitutional Tribunal for review of whether it conforms with Poland’s supreme law, the Constitution.

Duda won the 2015 presidential election as a Law and Justice candidate, and throughout his first five-year term his decisions were in line with the ruling party’s policies. Recently, though, he has questioned some legislation proposed by the party and directed some draft bills to the Constitutional Tribunal or vetoed them, as in the case of the 2021 media ownership law.

File: Polish President Andrzej Duda listens through an earpiece to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a joint news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, August 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko)

The law would establish a “State Commission for the Study of Russian Influences on the Internal Security of the Republic of Poland in the Years 2007-2022,” which would continue even if there is a change of power in the fall.

Critics say the investigative commission, with powers to ban people from public positions and to reverse administrative and business decisions, would violate citizens’ right to face an independent court and is a clear example of how Law and Justice has been using the law for its own ends ever since coming to power in 2015.

They view the bill, dubbed “Lex Tusk,” as an attempt to create a powerful and unconstitutional tool that would help Law and Justice continue to wield power even if it loses control of the parliament in elections this fall.

Tusk is to lead a pro-democracy march in Warsaw on June 4, the anniversary of the partly free parliamentary elections in 1989 that led to the ouster of communism.

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