Opposition lawmakers in Poland have been occupying parliament for three weeks in a protest against the government. Frantic efforts are now being made to end the crisis before the next plenary session on Wednesday.
Almost all of Poland's important party leaders met on Monday at the invitation of the president of the senate to try to find a solution to the parliamentary crisis. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the governing national-conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), also took part. The PiS is clearly trying to displace the conflict to a secondary theater - the senate, Poland's upper house of parliament.
However, Grzegorz Schetyna, the head of the biggest opposition party, the PO, steered clear of what he referred to as an "absurd" meeting. He said that instead he expected the PiS speaker of the lower house to "return to the [lower house's] plenary assembly hall." After all, he said, the conflict had not begun in the senate. The leader of the other liberal opposition party, Modern, did take part in the meeting - which goes to show once again how divided the opposition is.
Budget 'passed' in adjacent room
Over the past few weeks, Poland has been caught up in a fight between the national-conservative government and the liberal opposition. The crisis began on December 16 with the announcement by the governing PiS that they would be restricting media access to parliament. The fight escalated inside the parliament - among other things, a group of opposition representatives occupied the rostrum in the plenary chamber. The government's parliamentary party left the chamber and "passed" the 2017 budget in an adjacent room. The main bone of contention now is whether this improvised vote, by a show of hands, was legitimate or not. Ultimately, the issue at stake is whether a parliamentary party with a small absolute majority, like the PiS, has to stick to the rules, or whether it can casually set them aside.
PiS leader Kaczynski has described the events in and around the parliament since December 16 in increasingly strong terms: an "attempted coup." Initially, the opposition's aim was to block the passing of the budget. Kaczynski has said in an interview that the private media in Poland have given a "completely false" picture of the conflict. This, he said, was why a "reorganization of the media" was desirable, through regulations relating to monopolies law, for instance. In any case, Kaczynski said, a victory for the opposition would mean "the elimination of freedom" in Poland, including freedom of religion: He claimed that opposition politicians were "talking about throwing PiS people out of windows."
Opposition has an image problem
Even commentators sympathetic to the opposition are saying it's in a tricky situation. One of them is the journalist Ludwik Dorn, who used to be a close confidant of Kaczynski's. Dorn warned that the next thing the parliamentary speaker might do was make painful cuts to the per diem of some members of parliament because of their "illegal" stay in the plenary chamber. Opposition MPs are still occupying the chamber in shifts. Their key demands are media freedom and a fresh vote on the 2017 budget.
Among other things, Mateusz Kijowski, the leader of the non-parliamentary opposition movement KOD, is involved in a financial scandal. It has now been made known that his IT company received the equivalent of almost 21,000 euros ($22,200) from the KOD for its services. A leadership debate broke out openly in the KOD for the first time as a result.
All in all, the government is in a comfortable position, and the opposition in a difficult one. With its leaders battling image problems and disunity, many activists are feeling obliged to choose between resignation and radicalization.
"This crisis about the parliament has come too early for the opposition," says Kazimierz Woycicki, a former civil rights activist who is now the deputy leader of a new party called Union of European Democrats. "Financially, the government has managed, more or less, to put together the 2017 budget," he told DW. "It's introducing the new child allowance and a home-building program, which will make it popular. Public finances will only start running into difficulty later this year."