Europe

Poland faces parliamentary showdown over opposition blockade

By Lidia Kelly

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland is poised for a parliamentary showdown on Wednesday when lawmakers convene for the first time this year after the centrist opposition rebuffed calls to end a blockade over media rights and the 2017 budget vote.

Moves by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party to curb the number of journalists in parliament and their right to record proceedings drove opposition lawmakers to start a sit-in in the main hall in mid-December.

Rejecting PiS appeals, the main opposition Civic Platform said on Tuesday it would stick to its sit-in if the PiS tried to relaunch parliament on Wednesday after the holiday recess, a stance that could escalate the dispute.

PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna said his party would occupy “any room in which (the PiS) will try to organize proceedings”, after rejecting an offer from PiS counterpart Jaroslaw Kaczynski to try to find a compromise.

The crisis in the European Union member state began last month when PiS was forced to move its 2017 budget vote to an auxiliary chamber of parliament after opposition MPs blocked the podium in the plenary hall in a protest at the ruling party’s move to curb media access to lawmakers.

How the proceedings will take place on Wednesday remains unclear, but any showdown is likely to bring another scolding from the European Commission, which last month gave Warsaw two months to remove a “systemic threat to the rule of law”.

Kaczynski’s eurosceptic party enjoys strong, steady support of around a third of Poles despite critics’ accusation that PiS policies are undermining democratic checks and balances and tilting the formerly communist state toward authoritarian rule.

But critics say the opposition risks weakening its position as it has failed to take a joint approach to the crisis and lacks a coherent plan to defuse it.

Kaczynski said he expected a very heated session and warned that “decisions” might be taken if parliament could not reconvene. “We are operating from the position that the session will take place,” he told journalists. “And we will do everything to ensure that even if there are problems.”

He would not elaborate on what decisions the eurosceptic PiS, which holds a majority in parliament, would take.

On Monday, the PiS announced it would reinstate full media access to parliament to try to defuse the standoff, but a wary PO said it was not yet ready to call off its blockade.

On Tuesday, Kaczynski said PiS MPs would consider some of the budget amendments proposed by the opposition – but not conduct a rerun of the budget vote.

The PO reiterated its demand for a rerun as a condition for lifting its blockade, saying the December vote was illegal because the PiS lacked the required quorum of lawmakers.

Kaczynski also held two meetings with opposition figures on Tuesday but PO did not attend.

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(Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Pawel Sobczak, Pawel Florkiewicz and Marcin Goclowski; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Categories: Europe, News Wire

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