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Poland's Duda approves controversial Russian influence bill

May 29, 2023

The ruling Law and Justice party argues the bill is necessary for transparency on potential Russian influence. But opposition lawmakers see it as a ploy to remove political rivals.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda speaks to the media in London
Polish President Adrzej Duda said he would sign the bill despite hefty criticism from legal experts and opposition lawmakersImage: Peter Cziborra/REUTERS

Polish President Andrzej Duda said he plans to sign a bill on Monday that creates a commission to investigate Russian influence on Polish politicians.

Critics of the bill, however, argue that the commission could be used to remove rivals of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party — more specifically, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Legal experts said that the bill violates Poland's constitution and had urged Duda not to sign it.

What is in the bill?

The bill, which was passed by parliament on Friday, allows for the creation of a powerful panel that would be charged with investigating potential Russian influence in Polish politics from 2007 to 2022.

If people under investigation are found to have acted under Russian influence, the commission would have the power to ban those politicians from holding a security clearance — or working in roles where they are responsible for public funds.

The move would effectively bar them from holding public office for several years.

The commission's members would be selected by the Polish parliament, where the PiS party currently holds a narrow majority.

Why does the PiS party want the commission?

In light of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the subsequent war and energy crisis, the PiS party accused the previous party in power, the liberal Civic Platform (PO) of making Poland overly dependent on Russian fossil fuel.

The PO party was in government form 2007 to 2015.

Polish former prime minister Donald Tusk waves in parliament in Warsaw, Poland
The opposition argues the law is aimed at removing ex-prime minister Donald Tusk from the political sceneImage: Czarek Sokolowski/AP/picture alliance

According to the now ruling  PiS, previous energy policies raise questions about whether some PO members had especially strong ties with Russia.

In announcing his approval of the bill on Monday, Duda said it was important for the public to get answers.

"Transparency in clarifying important public and political matters is of tantamount importance to me," Duda said in his address. "The public should form its own opinion on how its representatives are .. taking care of its interests."

The Polish president also sought to allay concerns from critics, saying that the bill would be examined by the country's Constitutional Tribunal after it is passed to check its legality.

Why is the bill controversial?

Members of the opposition PO party and other critics have sharply condemned the passage of the bill.

They say attempts by the PiS party to disqualify opposition politicians from holding government positions in the future would deal a major blow to Poland's democracy.

They also argue that the bill gives the investigative commission legal responsibilities and functions that should belong to the courts.

"In a normal democratic country, somebody who is president of that country would never sign such a Stalin-esque law," PO lawmaker Marcin Kierwinski told private broadcaster TVN 24.

Leak found in oil pipeline from Russia to Europe

The PO also argues that the bill is aimed at removing its party leader, Donald Tusk, from the electoral race ahead of parliamentary elections slated to take place in October or November later this year.

Tusk and PiS party head Jaroslaw Kaczynski have long been political rivals.

What happens next?

After Duda signs the bill, it will go into effect within a week of its publication.

While the Polish president has said he would send the bill to the Constitutional Tribunal for review, the court's work has been slowed due to internal conflicts.

In response to the Duda's decision, Tusk called for a pro-democracy demonstration to take place on Sunday, June 6.

"Mr. President, let me invite you for public consultation on June 4. It will be easy to hear and see us from the windows of your palace," Tusk wrote on Twitter.

The opposition leader, who is also a former European Commission president, said the opposition is prepared to deal with the investigative commission and that the PiS party would "regret it." He did not elaborate on the opposition's plans.

rs/dj (AP, Reuters)

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