Polish Sejm approves changes to Constitutional Tribunal

The Sejm lower house of Polish parliament voted at night to annul the five remaining members of the Constitutional Tribunal which were appointed by the previous government.

In late-night voting on Wednesday, the bill was voted for by 270 MPs from the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) and the opposition populist Kukiz’15 parties, and against by 40 MPs from the Nowoczesna (Modern) and the agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL).

All except one of the opposition centrist Civic Platform (PO) MPs left the room for the voting.

In a previous vote both houses of the Polish Parliament passed a bill which saw the term of the five judges on the Constituional Tribunal end prematurely. The bill was then swiftly approved by Polish President Duda.

“The Tribunal is an institution of particular significance. It has enormous power, completely uncontrolled and very weak legitimacy. It is essentially a political body, and also in today’s [political] realities, it needs to be changed,” the TVN24 broadcaster quoted PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński as saying. Kaczyński was referring to his party’s negative assessment of the manner in whih the former PO-led government nominated Constitutional Tribunal judges shortly before it lost power in general elections on 25 October.

“If this continues, then a situation arises which confuses the public and severely affects the course of Polish public affairs. We need to resolve this matter not only in the interest of the issues which greatly affect the majority of Poles, but also in the interest of Polish democracy,” Kaczyński added.

The move met with widespread criticism of opposition parties. PO MP Grzegorz Schetyna, former foreign minister, called Wednesday’s vote “a creeping coup d’etat”.

Meanwhile, Ryszard Petru, head of the opposition Modern party told journalists that the PiS party “is testing how far they can go”.

“In an address to the Sejm [prior to the voting], I said this was a ‘Blitzkrieg’ […] well prepared, unannounced, and a quick attack on the Constitutional Tribunal,” Petru said.

“Just because Civic Platform had made mistakes in the past, does not mean that PiS can ‘go wild’? It will now change all the judges of the Constitutional Tribunal, appoint its own. All of this could happen over a very short timespan. Not only could this be unconstitutional, it could also be invalid [on a larger scale],” Petru said.

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