Poland’s parliament narrowly passed a law setting up a commission to investigate Russian political influence in the country, but the opposition denounces the effort as a political witch hunt aimed at hurting it before this fall’s parliamentary election.
After a stormy debate, parliament passed the bill late Friday, overturning the upper house Senate’s rejection of the legislation.
The ostensible goal is to examine the Kremlin’s influence from 2007 to 2022 — a period covering the 2007-2015 governments of the Civic Platform party led by Donald Tusk as well as the current Law and Justice (PiS) party government. But the concern is that the current government, embroiled in a battle with the European Commission over accusations that it’s backsliding on rule of law and democracy, will use it as a bludgeon against its political foes.
The government insists the legislation has no ulterior motive.
“I would like all Poles to be aware that today, at this particular time, the establishment of this commission [will] verify Russian influence in the Polish economy, especially in the energy sector,” said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, adding that he was confident that the bill isn’t unconstitutional — a view not shared by many legal experts.
But the opposition sees the legislation in a much darker light — suspecting it’s aimed at eliminating Tusk from politics just as the country gears up for an election where PiS is running just behind the united opposition, according to POLITICO’s poll of polls.
The government says the commission is needed to probe Russian gas deals signed by Warsaw at the time of Tusk’s government, although they happened before the current war on Ukraine and also predated Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea.
The 10-member commission will be chosen by the parliament, where PiS holds a narrow majority, and its head will be selected by Morawiecki. It would have the power to examine past decisions and punish people found to have been acting under the influence of the Kremlin, including by banning them from jobs involving the spending of public funds — which would block them from running for office.
The bill now goes for signature to President Andrzej Duda.
Tusk observed the vote from the parliament’s galleries and later denounced the outcome.
“The cowards in the parliament voted for a commission to eliminate their most dangerous enemy,” he said after the vote.
In a later interview with Newsweek’s Polish edition, Tusk said: “Delegations from the U.S. or EU countries I meet with do not believe that the authorities could have come up with the idea of setting up a committee where a couple of guys vote that their main competitor will not be allowed to participate in public life.”
Janusz Kowalski, an MP with Sovereign Poland, a right-wing PiS coalition partner, said this week that the goal of the commission is to put Tusk before the Tribunal of State — a little-used body in charge of prosecuting politicians. He added that one of his life goals is to “stick [Tusk] in prison.”
Morawiecki belittled Tusk’s concerns.
“If Mr. Donald is so scared of this, I think he has something behind the ears,” he said, using a Polish expression meaning that someone is guilty of a malfeasance.
The stakes in the upcoming election are very high.
The opposition warns that Poland could shift into being an authoritarian state if PiS wins an unprecedented third term, and has vowed to investigate and prosecute anyone involved in the numerous scandals that have roiled the government.
PiS hopes an election victory will permanently cement its radical political and legal changes.
“We cannot allow for the patriotic camp to lose these elections,” Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS and Poland’s de facto ruler, said this weekend.