Europe

Poland politics: former presidents attack ruling party

Poland’s former president and legendary Solidarity freedom movement founder Lech Walesa - April 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption Lech Walesa is one of three former presidents to criticise what they called Poland's "draconian" new laws

Three former Polish presidents have attacked the right-wing government in an open letter, accusing it of "violating" the constitution.

The letter was published on the front page of the Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's second-largest newspaper, on Monday.

The row centres on the government's wish to change the way the main legislative court works. The court says the changes are unconstitutional.

Poland's prime minister says she has a mandate to make changes.

The letter is signed by:

  • Lech Walesa, former union leader and president from 1990 to 1995
  • Aleksander Kwasniewski, left-wing president from 1995 to 2005
  • Bronislaw Komorowski, liberal president from 2010 to 2015
  • seven other figures, including Radoslaw Sikorski, the foreign minister from 2007 to 2015

In it, the co-signatories criticise "draconian" new laws, including proposed new regulation that would make all abortions illegal. They also condemn "the anti-European and xenophobic declarations and actions of the current leaders".

New rules sought by the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) would increase the number of Constitutional Court judges needed for a ruling and change the order in which cases are heard. While the court did not support the steps, the government has refused to publish the court's ruling.

A draft report by the Council of Europe, the continent's leading human rights watchdog, said the changes made it extremely difficult for the court to take decisions, thereby endangering the rule of law.

The moves to alter the court are "paralysing the work of the Constitutional Tribunal and all of the judicial authorities", the letter says. "An attempt by Law and Justice to create its own order represents an usurpation of power."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Protests against moves to alter the constitutional court have taken place across Poland

The PiS won a majority in last October's election, thereby giving it a mandate to bring in the changes it wishes, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said in response to the letter.

"These men say: 'We are democracy.' I say: 'Democracy is the free choice of Poles who have chosen the PiS and its programme'," she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski said it was "absurd" to suggest democracy in Poland was under threat.

In the past month, rallies have taken place in Polish cities to protest against the moves to change the work of the court.

Large demonstrations have also been held against the abortion law and the decision to give government a hands-on role in running media organisations.

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