Polish leader accuses opponents of murder in reforms row

Jaroslaw Kaczynski makes emotional intervention in judicial dispute amid EU warning

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), attends a parliamentary session in Warsaw, Poland. Photograph: Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski/via Reuters

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), attends a parliamentary session in Warsaw, Poland. Photograph: Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski/via Reuters

 

Polish political leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has weighed into the bitter standoff over his country’s court reforms, using an emotional late-night parliamentary address to defend the plans and accuse opponents of killing his twin brother.

The outburst from Mr Kaczynski, chairman of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, came amid renewed warnings from the European Commission that Warsaw’s far-reaching judicial reforms risked undermining the rule of law in Poland and could end in sanctions.

The Polish government says its reforms are necessary to make the judiciary more democratic and streamlined. However, critics say the raft of reforms are intended to politicise the courts and link judicial appointments to PiS loyalty.  

In a surprise intervention during a parliamentary debate on the issue on Tuesday evening, Mr Kaczynski defended the plans and took issue with “traitor” opposition politicians mentioning his “holy” brother’s name.

“You destroyed him, murdered him,” he said. “You are villains.” When opposition MPs attempted to answer these claims, he snapped: “Get lost.”

The murder claim was a reference to the 2010 plane crash in Smolensk, western Russia, that claimed the lives of the then president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, his wife and 94 other senior government officials and public figures. Two investigations said a mixture of human error and thick fog were responsible for the crash.

For seven years, however, the surving Kaczynski twin and his allies have claimed the crash was caused by a bomb, although exhumations of victims revealed no evidence of this.

The Smolensk conspiracy theory remains a matter of faith for PiS supporters and a political platform for Mr Kaczynski and his reform agenda.

Supreme court

The Polish government has already taken tight control of public broadcaster TVP, brought the state prosecutor into the justice ministry, and overhauled the constitutional court.

Its latest reform Bills would enact sweeping new powers to hire and fire judges, including those in the supreme court, replacing them with nominees of the justice ministry and parliament.

The reforms would shift influence away from a judge-controlled appointment body.

In a surprise move, president Andrzej Duda intervened in the row this week, saying that allowing judicial appointments through a simple parliamentary majority looked like a “political diktat”.

“That is not permissible . . . I won’t sign the proposed Bill from parliament on my desk,” he said.

He suggested a change to the proposed legislation that would require a 60 per cent parliamentary majority to make judicial appointments, to force the government to choose candidates with cross-party support.

It was a show of independence that surprised leading PiS officials, who said the move “was not agreed” with them.

No one was more surprised that Mr Kaczynski, who plucked Mr Duda from relative obscurity to run as president in 2015, building momentum for a PiS absolute majority in the parliamentary elections.  

Without Mr Duda’s signature, the government’s judicial reform Bills cannot become law, though it has vowed to carry on with its reforms.

That stance prompted renewed warnings on Wednesday from the European Commission.

Vice-president Frans Timmermans warned that the Bills would “eliminate the remaining independence of the judiciary and bring jurisprudence under the full control of the government”.

If the reforms go ahead, Mr Timmermans said the commission could issue a formal warning against Poland as early as next week.