On 31 May, the president of Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), Jarosław Kaczyński released an open letter to all Poles urging them to vote for his party in the forthcoming elections this October, in order to consolidate “the gains” which his party allegedly achieved over the last four years. As a Polish citizen and voter, I am responding to the letter.
Dear Mr Kaczyński,
In response to your letter of 31 May, let me inform you that I will neither be willing nor able to vote for your party in the next parliamentary elections. My reasons divide into two categories: firstly, those having to do with what the current Polish presidency, government and parliamentary majority, all under your direct control, have already done to Poland since 2015, and secondly, those based on my reasonable predictions about what you and your party intend to pursue and achieve in the next parliamentary term.
Regarding the first category, I wish to highlight the following effects of your rule so far:
• A paralysis of the Constitutional Tribunal and its conversion into an obedient helper of the government and parliamentary majority, contrary to the fundamental purpose of a constitutional court which is to balance and check the political majority. Also planting a person (in an unconstitutional manner) as the Chief Justice of that Tribunal, who lacks even basic legal and ethical predispositions for the office but displaying instead an unlimited loyalty towards you;
• Establishing a partial control over all judges (only “partial” due to intransigence of many judges and the interventions by the Court of Justice of the EU), including members of the Supreme Court. You have led a purge of the Supreme Court and leading officials in all common courts, overseeing a system of disciplinary control of the judiciary supervised by the Minister of Justice, who employs it against judges handing down judgments contrary to the political preferences of the current government;
• Erosion of any independence of the public prosecutor’s office (prokuratura) and the merger of the public prosecution system with that of the Ministry of Justice. As a result, the public prosecution system is now headed by the Minister of Justice, an active politician in the government you control;
• An end to the requirements of neutrality and professionalism of the civil service, and the placing of your political nominees at the top of all state institutions and companies, often with disastrous effects for the work of these institutions;
• A negative transformation of the electoral system as a result of which there is no longer a requirement that only judges may become electoral commissioners. Top electoral officials are now dependent upon the government (the Minister of Interior) and a new chamber of the Supreme Court, consisting entirely of your party’s nominees who will determine the outcome of the elections. All this makes it possible for your party to operate electoral fraud;
• Turning the law-making process into a travesty by passing the most important pieces of legislation in great haste, often under the cover of the night, and processing legislative proposals using a fast-track procedure, without the need to conduct consultations, seek expert opinion or carry out impact assessments etc.
• Demonising and marginalising the parliamentary opposition, including denying or radically limiting their speech time (often only to 1 or 2 minutes per MP), and occasionally excluding them from parliamentary debates;
• Attempts - which have been partially successful - to establish artistic and cultural censorship by the Minister of Culture, and purging politically “disloyal” heads of state cultural institutions, such as museums or theatres;
• The marginalising of Poland in international relations, especially within the EU, which has been most recently manifested by attempts to put together a collection of Europhobic and xenophobic political parties alongside which PiS will be a sit within the ECR group in the European Parliament;
• Kowtowing to extremist right-wing nationalist forces in Poland, including those that directly appeal to pre-war quasi-fascist movements, as manifested most recently in the so-called “Independence March” of 11 November 2018;
• Turning public TV and Radio into devices of propaganda, dispensing unconditional praise upon your party and government, and spreading lies, hate and vilification of the opposition forces.
These are just some of the instances of the broader development whereby the imperfect (as they all are) but by-and-large well-functioning Polish constitutional democracy has been turned into a system in which all political power is concentrated in one person’s hands - yours. I have documented these developments in some detail in my book, 'Poland’s Constitutional Breakdown' which has just been published.
The second category of reasons which preclude my vote for your party concern my reasonable predictions about what your party will attempt to achieve in its second term of office. These predictions are reasonable: they are based both on public statements of your party’s leaders (including yourself) and on the fact that you have expressly identified Hungary as a model to emulate in Poland. As someone conversant with the current situation in Hungary, I am able to predict that, if reelected, your party and government will pursue the following goals:
• Take control over the remaining independent commercial media, especially private TV stations and printed press;
• Place a party faithful in the role of the Ombudsman of Poland, when the current courageous and independent Ombudsman, Dr Adam Bodnar, steps down at the end of his term of office soon;
• Further centralise the administration of Poland which will erode much of the competences of the mayors of large cities which are currently held by politicians independent of your party;
• Complete your control over the entire judiciary;
• Further “improvement” of political control over NGOs, including by further control over their funding;
• Further marginalise the parliamentary opposition;
• Refusal to implement in Poland those judgments of the CJEU that you will find politically inconvenient to you, which will mean a de facto, if not de jure, “Polexit.”
Even if only some of these things happen, it will mean a conclusive transformation of the Polish constitutional democracy into an autocracy with no checks and balances, no separation of powers and no rule of law. It will be a real tragedy - and something that may take generations to undo.
As you see, Mr Kaczyński, I treat the forthcoming elections not as a competition between different political proposals regarding economic, social, educational and international policies - a competition which is typical of all democracies - but rather as a plebiscite over two contrasting visions of the political structure in Poland: an autocratic and a democratic one. In this plebiscite, I am categorically, unreservedly and absolutely opposed to your vision.
For these reasons, I am unwilling to accede to your request and to vote for your party in the forthcoming elections.
This letter was first published in Polish by na:Temat
Wojciech Sadurski is Challis Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Sydney School of Law, Professor of the Centre for Europe at the University of Warsaw, and currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at Fordham Law School in New York
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