A controversial commission tasked with investigating Russian influence in Poland will not be formed before October’s elections, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has revealed. The EU and US had expressed concern that the body would be used to attack the opposition during the campaign.
A senior PiS figure says that delays in passing the relevant legislation mean that the commission’s members cannot be appointed in time. However, an inside source from the party speaking to a leading newspaper suggested that PiS also no longer sees the body as politically useful before the election.
Previously, the government had insisted that it was urgent to investigate Russian influence as quickly as possible, and opposition leader Donald Tusk – who was widely seen to be the commission’s main target – has today celebrated PiS’s “capitulation”.
— Rzeczpospolita (@rzeczpospolita) August 18, 2023
The legislation to create the commission was signed into law by President Andrzej Duda – a PiS ally – in May. However, it immediately drew criticism from Brussels and Washington, in particular over the body’s power to ban individuals from holding public office for up to ten years.
That led Duda to propose changes watering down the commission’s powers just days after signing the bill. Those were approved by parliament last month and signed into law on 31 July. Despite the amendments, Council of Europe experts still warn that the commission threatens the fairness of elections.
The original law passed in May required parliament to nominate members of the commission by 14 June. However, that deadline was ignored by the ruling party while amendments to the legislation were being considered. Opposition parties, meanwhile, have boycotted the nomination procedure.
The ruling party has pushed through changes to the commission investigating Russian influence.
It did so despite a @CoE expert report this week recommending the commission be scrapped entirely as it is „fundamentally flawed” and a threat to elections https://t.co/GqNgbgnh48
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 28, 2023
Today, PiS MP Marek Ast, who is head of the parliamentary justice and human rights committee, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that it “will not be possible” to appoint the Russian influence commission’s members before elections on 15 October.
He claimed that the time taken to amend the legislation, as well as the opposition’s refusal to nominate its share of candidates, mean that there is not enough time to appoint members before the election campaign gets fully underway in September.
“It will probably remain a task for the next term of parliament to execute this law and set up the commission,” he added.
The ruling party wants to make this year’s election a referendum on opposition leader @donaldtusk.
While old foes Kaczyński and Tusk are relishing their renewed battle, it may benefit neither and instead further fuel the recent rise of the far right https://t.co/CTdwyPVkKu
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 16, 2023
Ast’s remarks came after Rzeczpospolita, a leading daily, had this morning reported that PiS was planning to “quietly withdraw from establishing the Russian influence commission”. This was because, said the newspaper, PiS has decided to instead focus its campaign on the referendum it will hold on election day.
An unnamed member of the ruling party’s senior leadership told Rzeczpospolita that “the number one topic has now become the referendum…because research shows that it is this which interests Poles now, not Russian influence.”
That message stands in contrast to PiS’s previous arguments that the commission is urgently needed in order to root out Russian influence and ascertain which public officials had succumbed to it.
Following Ast’s remarks, opposition leader Donald Tusk released a video celebrating the fact that PiS had “capitulated”, which he said was thanks to the hundreds of thousands who had joined him at a mass rally in Warsaw on 4 June to protest against the commission.
„Lex Tusk” tango down. Dziękuję Wam. pic.twitter.com/NoP8r6gtdq
— Donald Tusk (@donaldtusk) August 18, 2023
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Main image credit: Jakub Orzechowski / Agencja Wyborcza.pl
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.