Law and Justice’s long goodbye with government (4-12 November 2023)

by | Nov 12, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

The week started with Andrzej Duda’s not entirely earthshaking announcement about whom he will designate as the prime minister. It was followed by the rising tension until the opposition parties unveiled their coalition agreement.

The significance of the two announcements was underlined by the National Independence Day celebrations on 11 November. While it is observed as the Remembrance or Armistice Day in the UK and other countries, the anniversary of the end of the World War I is for Poland the anniversary of regaining sovereignty in 1918, ending 123 year-long period when Poland did not exist on the map after it was partitioned by Germany, Austria, and Russia at the end of the 18th century.

The Independence March

In the last years the symbolic space of the Polish celebrations on 11 November has been hijacked by far-right parties and the annual Independence March is usually an expression of nationalist, anti-EU, homophobic and otherwise chauvinist message. This year’s march, attended by around 40 thousand people, was not much different in that regard, apart from the fact that this time it was organised by the faction in the nationalist movement who removed its leader Robert Bąkiewicz who was also a Law and Justice unsuccessful candidate for the parliament. The new organisers further distanced themselves from Confederacy which leader Krzysztof Bosak was called a traitor by activist of the National Radical Camp (ONR), a borderline fascist organisation that considers itself a successor of a part of the same name that operated in Poland before the World War II.

The Independence March on Saturday was reportedly less turbulent and violent than in some of the previous years when it clashed with anti-fascist counter-demonstrations. And it was, as far as most commentators are concerned, the last one organised under the right-wing government of Law and Justice, even though the party itself is still not officially accepting the inevitable transfer of power.

President designates the prime minister

On Monday (6 November) the president chose to prevent further speculations and announced that Mateusz Morawiecki will be the candidate for the prime minister after the parliament gathers for the first session on 13 November. The decision was not entirely obvious and even Law and Justice politicians admitted to the press that they were not sure Morawiecki will be designated. As the president announcement had a form of a televised speech and has no legal binding, it was considered premature by some constitutional experts. Other commentators pointed out that the motivation of the president is not entirely straightforward as he must understand that Morawicki’s mission to form the government will necessarily fail. Was Andrzej Duda tried to further humiliate the outgoing prime minister and to ensure his own status as a successor of Jarosław Kaczyński? Or is he actually beliefs that Morawiecki will be able to convince enough of the opposition politicians to receive the vote of confidence in the coming weeks?

In his speech, Duda also announced that the Marshal Senior of the new Sejm will be Marek Sawicki from the Polish People’s Party.  This temporary position has an important role in the constitutional order: the Marshal Senior presides over the first session of a new parliament, overseeing the first decisions, including the election of the permanent marshal. The constitution says it should be awarded by the president to one of the most senior members, considering both their age and parliamentary experience. Sawicki is the longest-serving member of Sejm, having been in the parliament for consecutive 30 years. But some speculated that the decision to designate him was motivated by the president’s hope for a possible collaboration between Law and Justice and Polish People’s Party.

Coalition agreement goes public

The three opposition parties were apparently unmoved by the president announcements, consistently presenting a unified front in the media while talking about the upcoming coalition agreement. The agreement was eventually reached and presented on Friday (10 November), making it the first such document to be disclosed to the public.

The agreement consists of three parts. The first one presents the coalition program in 24 points that include issues related to national security, juridical system, funding of the public sector, healthcare and education, as well as support for entrepreneurs and NGOs. The second part promises prosecution of the outgoing government’s officials responsible for breaking the constitution. The third part regulates the functioning of the coalition and includes the names of the prospective prime minister (Donald Tusk), his deputies (Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and Krzysztof Gawkowski), as well as the Sejm Marshals (first Szymon Hołownia who will be replaced by Włodzimierz Czarzasty after two years), and the Senate Marshal (Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska who will be replaced by another person in two years).

The image of a completely unified front was nevertheless distorted by a decision of the party Razem (Together) which is one of the three movements within the Left. The party leaders decided to not participate in the government as the coalition agreement did not include issues they advocated, including abortion rights and concrete numbers of increased funding for public housing, higher education, and healthcare system. At the same time, Razem’s Adrian Zandberg said the party, which has 7 seats in Sejm, will still support the government.

Small and big unseating

As the parliament gathers for the first session on 13 November, the media speculate about the next chapter in the Law and Justice’s long goodbye with the government seats, also in a very literal sense. Last week the marshal senior organised a meeting with all parliamentary parties. It was supposed to be a technical discussion but ended with a quarrel over how parties will be seated in the Sejm. The argument between Law and Justice and Confederacy was about the seats that are the closest to a raised tribune (unofficially known as The Tram) where the members of government are seated. Confederacy insisted on having those seats which are, incidentally, the most far-right seats. Eventually the Law and Justice prevailed.

The main question that everyone asks now is whether Mateusz Morawicki will actually attempt to form the new government. As his success is extremely unlikely, some commentators speculate he will admit his inability to gather the majority and announce resignation. Either way, it would be the first time since 2004 when a prime minister candidate designated by the president was unable to receive a vote of confidence.

Photo by Przemysław Keler/KPRP from the official website of the President of Poland, downloaded on 13 November 2023. 

The views and perspectives expressed in this post are solely those of the author.