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On Dec. 22, 2015, Sejm (the Lower Chamber of Polish Parliament) adopted an amendment to the act of Constitutional Tribunal, which was authored by the PiS (Law and Justice) political party. Due to the current composition of Sejm, with PiS having the decisive majority, the amendment was a mere formality. Nevertheless, the vote caused a degree of uproar throughout Poland.
What does it mean, if anything, to the United States, though? In theory, not much. In reality, a wise man knows that even a small drop can cause ripples that spread far and wide. With the 27 amendments to the United States Constitution, Americans are quite used to having the supreme law somewhat extended and interpreted. Since its birth on Sept. 17, 1787, the Constitutional law that supplements it has been an obvious part of American life.
For Poland, the roots are, on one hand, equally deep, and on the other, quite muddled at times. The May 3 Constitution from 1791 was short-lived, as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth ceased to exist four years later, but it became one of the symbols of Polish struggle for independence and liberty, an idea exemplifying the necessity of change, as well as a reason of further pride. The muddled part stems from the partition of Poland and subsequent transformations that took place in the 20th Century. Namely, the independence of the Second Polish Republic, between 1918 and 1939, and the loss of it; the Soviet influence over the People’s Republic of Poland, which existed between 1945 and 1989, and after regaining full sovereignty, the novelization in 1989, which consists of the ‘small’ constitution of 1992 and the ‘full’, current constitution of 1997.
There is no clear indication of what the amendment can cause by itself. As with virtually any other tool, it can be used either for noble or nefarious purposes. The change itself makes dismissing and replacing judges appointed by the previous government significantly easier. Obviously, that alteration is neither good nor bad by itself. The perception of the appointments depends highly on how much the voters of Poland trust the contemporary government. If it has their backing, it is a clear change for the better. Otherwise, it is an attempt to overthrow democracy itself, labeled as authoritarian and blatantly against principles of the civilized world.
Currently, aside from the declared followers of Polish political parties, there is no clear consensus on whether the amendment was introduced for the good or bad. In a way, this situation can lead to a relative upheaval in the fragile balance of powers–Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Alternatively, it can be a healthy change, allowing for the rooting out of corruption and nepotism.
In the end, the real question is–should the newly appointed PiS government be trusted? One might respond with a clear and firm: “Of course, they have been appointed legally by voters!” There is, however, a catch. Only about 16 percent of the entire Polish population has actually cast their votes on the said political party. When that number is combined with the knowledge that the PiS electorate is very loyal and always takes part in the ballot, the number is even less impressive. It is, therefore, clear to see that the remaining 84 percent of Poland was either too jaded to actually vote, cast their vote on some other party, or otherwise does not support the new government. That, obviously, leaves PiS in a precarious position. They are expected to bring changes, since they hold real power and have a genuine opportunity, yet they are far from having the trust of the populace. Clearly, the way to achieve that goal is quite long. As 2016 progresses, there is one thing that is clear–only time will tell if the amendment purifies Poland or pushes it towards authoritarian, single-party oriented rule.
Opinion by Mateusz Sykula
Edited by Leigh Haugh
Polish Press Agency
Image Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons – Creative Commons License