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Lech Walesa calls for early Polish vote

December 23, 2015

Poland's former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa has criticized the new right wing government and called for early elections. Support for the government has declined during its first two months in office.

Former Solidarity leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa
Image: Reuters/M. Schreiber

Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity trade union movement that ended communism in Poland, said on Wednesday that democracy was at risk. He called for a referendum to force the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to hold an early election.

Although Walesa has no say in government decisions, he does have influence on public opinion in Poland. His remarks have coincided with a growing anger among Poles who are unhappy with PiS policies, which critics say are undermining democracy.

Poland's lower chamber of parliament passed a constitutional court amendment on Tuesday. Both the supreme court and activists have said the change in law would undermine the separation of powers and paralyze the constitutional court.

10,000 Poles wave Polish and EU flags in Warsaw to protest right-wing government
Protest rally in WarsawImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kulczynski

"One should think about organizing (ourselves), press for a referendum, show in a referendum that two thirds are against such rule and shorten (parliament's) term," Walesa, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told private Radio Zet.

New government

The ruling conservatives won the October general election securing an outright majority in both chambers of parliament. They pledged to offer more social benefits for Poles who felt the country's economic success was not equally distributed.

"This government acts against Poland, against our achievements, freedom, democracy, not to mention the fact that it ridicules us in the world," Walesa said. "I'm ashamed to travel abroad."

Walesa's latest criticism of the government comes just days after 10,000 anti-government protesters took to the streets in Warsaw, while thousands more rallied in at least three other Polish cities.

The PiS party, using nationalist rhetoric, has dismissed criticism that it undermines Poland's young democracy. It claims a broad mandate to redesign the country to reflect its Catholic values and independence from Brussels.

New President Andrzej Duda, a close PiS ally, has refused to swear in Constitutional Tribunal judges chosen by the former parliament. However, he has sworn in new judges chosen by the new PiS-controlled parliament.

Approval ratings

Poland, which overthrew a communist government in 1989 and joined the EU in 2004, has long been considered one of the strongest supporters of the European Union among the former Soviet bloc states.

According to a TNS Institute poll published last week in Gazeta Wyborcza, one of the country's leading newspapers, approval ratings for the PiS have slipped to 27 percent from 42 percent at the start of December. However, the party remains the most popular one in Poland.

European Parliament chief Martin Schulz on Monday compared the political situation in Poland to a "coup", drawing the anger of the Polish government.

bik/jm (Reuters, AFP)