Polish government offers temporary olive branch in parliament standoff

By bne IntelliNews January 5, 2017

Polish media were temporarily readmitted to parliament under the old lax rules on January 5. The ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) had sought to place restrictions on reporting in December, sparking the country’s latest political crisis.

The government stressed as it reopened the doors to reporters that a new set of “compromise” rules will be tabled, according to a tweet from Senate Speaker Stanislaw Karczewski. The new conditions will be revealed next week, he added.

Shortly before Christmas, PiS proposed limiting journalists’ freedom to roam the parliament virtually uninterrupted. That sparked a backlash from the media and the opposition. The criticism soon turned into a full-blown political crisis when PiS excluded an opposition MP from taking part in parliamentary proceedings for protesting. In response, the opposition blocked the plenary room.

The stakes were raised when PiS moved proceedings to back room, where it voted through the 2017 budget amidst a lack of clarity about the quorum and with no unambiguous record on how individual MPs’ voted. Opposition MPs claimed they were not all able to access the room, while media were barred altogether.

Hence the opposition claims the vote was illegal, and it continues to occupy the main hall until, it claims, the vote is re-run. Street protests organized by the opposition movement Committee for Defence of Democracy (KOD) took place for several days in front of the parliament.

It is not yet clear what new “compromise rule” on media access to the parliament will be presented next week. PiS insists media access should be regulated. The ruling party also denounces the occupation of the plenary as “harmful to Poland.”

The ruling party has also hit back by raising questions over the opposition's stance and behaviour. The leader of the second biggest opposition party, Nowoczesna (Modern), Ryszard Petru, called for PiS to proceed on Modern’s amendments to the budget, despite insisting in December that the “budget must be legal.” There has also been a mini-scandal raised by reports that he flew to Portugal over new year rather than remain with the occupation of the parliamentary hall.

Meanwhile, KOD leader Mateusz Kijowski has rejected claims of corruption after it came to light that contributions to the movement ended up being paid to the company he co-owns with his wife issued for IT work for KOD. The invoices total some PLN90,000 (€20,000) for six months of work with prices for IT services grossly inflated, as if in order to channel KOD’s funds to Kijowski’s private account, critics charge.



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