Constitutional Crisis Veers Poland Into Uncharted Territory

Constitutional Crisis Veers Poland Into Uncharted Territory
Polish President Andrzej Duda at the Presidential Palace after signing controversial legislation that regulates the constitutional court, Warsaw, Dec. 28, 2015 (AP photo by Czarek Sokolowski).

Has Poland gone from European poster child to enfant terrible in one year? The new conservative government’s moves to stack the constitutional court and tighten its control of the media have worried Poland’s allies in the European Union and the United States and brought tens of thousands of Poles onto the streets to protest. Some have even warned of a serious threat to Poland’s democracy, two and a half decades after communism fell.

In response, the recently elected government of the Law and Justice party, known in Polish as the PiS, points to its democratic mandate and the unconstitutional behavior of its liberal predecessor. It portrays itself as a doughty warrior against a discredited and out-of-touch post-communist elite that has acted against the interests and core beliefs of ordinary Poles.

The previous right-of-center government, led by the Civic Platform (PO), originally triggered a crisis over the 15-member constitutional tribunal, which rules on the constitutionality of laws. In a last-minute move in October, with an election defeat looming, the PO-led administration appointed five new judges to the court, in a clear bid to retain influence over the body.

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