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Polish president Duda backtracks on Russian influence law

June 2, 2023

A new law in Poland has prompted outrage, with many arguing it would block government rivals from running for office. President Andrzej Duda now says he will introduce changes to the bill.

Polish President Andrzej Duda during a press conference in Latvia
Duda said he was 'appalled' by claims made by government criticsImage: Ints Kalnins/REUTERS

Poland's President Andrzej Duda said on Friday he would propose changes to a controversial law on undue Russian influence that he signed earlier this week.

Government critics decried the law as an attempt by the ruling PiS to ban opposition politicians from public office.

Under the law, a special commission were to investigate whether, between 2007 and 2022, public officials made decisions that threatened the country's security under Moscow's influence. They could then be banned for 10 years from public office.

The opposition saw this move as a direct attempt to torpedo the candidacy of former Prime Minister Donald Tusk in this fall's parliamentary election.

Now Duda decided to suggest a series of changes, saying that this move "eliminates much of the controversy around" the legislation. The president said his proposal would be submitted to parliament later on Friday.

Donald Tusk waves from the gallery of the Polish parliament
Poland's opposition leader, Donald Tusk is seen as a potential target of the new lawImage: Czarek Sokolowski/AP/picture alliance

What amendments is Duda proposing?

The original version of the law drew criticism from lawyers and opposition politicians, as well as the US State Department and the European Commission. Critics say it could ban candidates from running for office without proper judicial review.

"Appalled by these allegations... I have prepared an amendment to the law, a series of provisions which regulate or amend the issues in this law which aroused the greatest controversies," Duda said in a televised statement.

He said the proposed changes would include provisions to ban members of parliament from joining the commission, and would allow appeals to a general court, not an administrative court, and remove the provisions which would allow people to be banned from office.

"I propose removing those measures, leaving only a statement of the commission that a person who has been found to be acting under Russian influence does not guarantee the proper performance of public duties," the president said.

Ruling party can accept changes

A spokesman for the ruling PiS party suggested the amendments could be acceptable for the party. He said that the PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has "repeatedly emphasized that the main purpose of this law is to show the truth about the influence of Russian agents in Poland, and the main purpose of this act is preserved, even after the proposed amendments."

Meanwhile, opposition politicians have criticized the president for changing his mind on a law he signed just days earlier, saying the proposed changes do not address the issue of creating such a commission.

"It is unbelievable that a person who has a doctor's degree in law has not read the bill through," said Robert Kropiwnicki of the opposition Civic Coalition. "He needed four days to read it, understand it and is now amending it."

"The amendment proposed by the president as a result of social pressure does not change anything. The entire law establishing this illegal kangaroo court should end up in the trash," Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, leader of the Polish People's Party, wrote on Twitter.

dh/dj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)