Polish ruling party wants commission to investigate Russian influence; critics fear witch hunt

WARSAW, Poland — The Polish ruling party is pushing for the creation of a commission which it says would investigate Russian influence in Poland. Critics view it as an attempt to create a powerful and unconstitutional tool that would help the party continue to wield power even if it loses elections this fall.

Some fear the right-wing ruling party could use the planned commission to eliminate opposition leader Donald Tusk from political life. Tusk is the greatest threat to the ruling party, Law and Justice, as it seeks a third consecutive term in the vote expected in October.

Opposition senators dubbed it “Lex Tusk,” using the Latin term for “law,” and rejected it earlier this month in the upper house, where they hold a majority.

It now returns to the more powerful lower house of parliament, the Sejm, where the ruling party can usually muster a slim majority. A vote is expected on Friday.

However, in an unexpected development, a parliamentary commission making recommendations for that ballot voted Wednesday to uphold the Senate’s rejection. It was a show of unity by the opposition but lawmakers are under no obligation to reject the bill.

The bill foresees the creation of a state commission with the powers of prosecutor and judge. It could impose punishments, including 10-year bans on officials from positions that have control over spending public funds.

Critics say it violates the democratic separation of powers by giving the proposed commission the powers of a court. Poland’s ombudsman has said some of its provisions violate the constitution.

The proposal comes amid the backdrop of Russian aggression in Ukraine, Poland’s eastern neighbor, and with both sides of the political spectrum accusing the other of allowing the Kremlin to exert influence in Poland, particularly through the energy sector.

It is a sensitive issue in a country that was under the control of the Soviet Union for the Cold War decades, but threw off communism in 1989.

The bill would create a “State Commission for the Study of Russian Influences on the Internal Security of the Republic of Poland in the Years 2007-2022” which would continue even if there is a change of power in the fall.

That time period covers governments led by Tusk’s centrist Civic Platform party, from 2007-2015, and the current ruling party, Law and Justice, since 2015.

Law and Justice accuses Tusk of having been too friendly toward Russia during his years as prime minister and making gas deals favorable to Russia – before he went to Brussels to be the president of the European Council.

Critics of Poland’s current government accuse it of acting in ways that help Russia, for instance by increasing coal imports from Russia before the full-scale war in Ukraine and bickering with Germany and other Western allies, leaving the West more fractured as it faces Russian aggression in the region.

The idea of establishing a tool for investigating the influence of Russia on Polish authorities was originally put forward by Tusk himself last year.

He argued that it was important to investigate Russia’s alleged role in a wiretapping scandal that helped pave the way for Law and Justice to win power in 2015 and in an increase in Russian coal imports to Poland.

The ruling party ran with that idea, announcing in November its own plans for such a commission, but seeming to turn it against Tusk.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the commission was needed to verify the past and also remove any remaining Russian influence for the future.

“This matter must be very thoroughly clarified. We have absolutely nothing to hide here, so the entire period up to the present time should be verified,” Morawiecki said.

But many opposition figures fear a witch-hunt against themselves, particularly after right-wing lawmaker Janusz Kowalski admitted that he hoped the commission’s work would bring Donald Tusk before the State Tribunal.

The spokesman of the opposition Polish People’s Party, Milosz Motyka, said “this is to be only a whip against the opposition on the basis of made-up accusations.”

If the bill passes in parliament, it would go next to President Andrzej Duda, whose role is to sign bills into law or veto them.

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