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Polish President Andrzej Duda
Image: picture alliance/Pap/P.Supernak

A growing rift in Polish politics?

Paul Flückiger
August 22, 2017

President Duda's veto of two judicial reform bills has called government unity into question. Opposition politicians are hoping that Duda's rejection of Kaczynski's proposals may split the Law and Justice party.


A week after storms passed through northern Poland, 3,500 homes remain without power. It took three days for government officials to turn their attention to storm victims. Six people were killed, and 4,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, along with tens of thousands of trees. Until the Polish army arrived, local fire departments were left alone to conduct relief operations.

The government's delayed reaction and inability to restore power to homes have become political issues. Many blame internal party struggles within the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS). The party has been in a state of turmoil ever since President Andrzej Duda vetoed two judicial reform bills at the end of July. It was the first internal resistance to PiS Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski in the party's 20 months in power.

Read more: Polish civil society spurred by judicial reform to rise up

Jaroslaw Kaczynski
Kaczynski's PiS party holds the largest number of seats in the Polish parliament at presentImage: imago/Eastnews

Split in the PiS

Education Minister Jaroslaw Gowin has sided with Duda, while Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has harshly criticized him, as well as other parliamentarians looking to ingratiate themselves with Kaczynski.

The party states there is "no war among party leadership," though prior to his summer vacation, PiS chair Kaczynski said, "The veto was a major mistake," calling Duda's actions a "gaffe" that he hoped would be one-off event that would not reflect the president's future obedience to the party's wishes.

Read more: What are Poland's judicial reforms proposed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski?

President shows his independence

Duda announced he will put forward his own proposals regarding the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary, which oversees judiciary independence. Every few days the president's office emphasizes that it is in line with the government. Still, friction persists, as seen in the president's annual speech for Armed Forces Day on August 15. Duda brought a quietly growing drama into the public sphere when he accused Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz of treating the armed forces like his private army. Duda's disagreements over ambassadorships with Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski also have gained new traction.

Poles protest the proposed justice reforms
Poles protested the proposed justice reforms. Duda vetoed two of the three bills.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. A. Nicolas

Speculation over a new party

The marginalized liberal opposition is holding out hope that the split between those loyal to Kaczynski PiS and those who lean towards the president might grow. They would also welcome the formation of a new political party, such as one created by the Duda camp in partnership with the right-wing Kukiz'15 led by punk-rock musician Pawel Kukiz, a development which Polish media reports could be in the works. Government-friendly media, meanwhile, suggest discussions between Duda-aligned individuals and various parties may already be underway.

Duda would be up for reelection in 2020. PiS support for a second term had seemed secure, but hardliners allied to Kaczynski have been raising doubts. Their threat to withhold support could put pressure on Duda to fall back in line with Kaczynski's PiS policy positions.

It remains to be seen what will become of Duda's announced judicial reform proposals, and there is no deadline for a parliamentary vote on the issue. Kaczynski will be aiming for a constitutional parliamentary majority in the next general election. That would allow Kaczynski the freedom to act without his president's approval.

Polish judges under pressure

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