Polish parliamentary crisis on hold as opposition suspends protest

Polish parliamentary crisis on hold as opposition suspends protest
The prolonged protest inside the parliament seems to have become a disadvantage for the opposition.
By bne IntelliNews January 12, 2017

The Polish opposition suspended its occupation of the parliamentary plenary on January 12. The key issue of the legality of the budget vote in December remains contentious, however, and the opposition insists it will continue to fight the government's determination to ram it through.

The largest opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), said that lifting of efforts to introduce new rules of media access to the parliament by the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) provided the grounds to end the protest.

The crisis in the parliament erupted in December, after PiS suggested introducing curbs on reporters. Sensing an opportunity to hit out at PiS, opposition parties – mainly PO and its liberal rival Modern – staged an occupation of the plenary, demanding free access for the media. Since 1989, journalists have been able to roam the parliament’s corridors virtually uninterrupted, a privilege introduced after decades of communist censorship.

The protest took place as PiS was getting ready to vote on next year’s budget bill. The ruling party moved proceedings to another room where the vote went through swiftly, although amidst huge uncertainty whether there was a quorum. Opposition parties insist the vote was illegal.

However, PiS has withstood the pressure at the relatively low price of backing off on its restriction on the media, while the prolonged protest seems to have become a disadvantage for the opposition. The leader of Modern, Ryszard Petru, effectively dropped out of the demonstration by suggesting a way out of the crisis may be to ask PiS to agree to a debate on the opposition’s amendments to the budget bill in the Senate.

PiS however disregarded the proposal and pushed the bill through the upper house with ease. The bill now awaits signature of PiS-friendly President Andrzej Duda. 

The opposition said it would remain on alert to ensure restrictions on the media are not tabled again. The budget remains illegal, PO also claims.

Following a number of earlier controversies between the opposition and PiS - such as on the control of Poland's Constitutional Tribunal - it appears unlikely the opposition's efforts will dent PiS popularity in any way. The ruling party's lead in polls has been unquestionable since taking power in November 2015. The average from recent polls gives PiS nearly 33% support, nearly equal to the combined results of PO and Modern.