By Katarzyna Gójska and Tomasz Sakiewicz
Mr. Chairman, were we dealing with an attempt to fulfill a scenario which assumed blocking the elections, creating a new majority in the Sejm and, consequently, overthrowing the United Right government? This seems to be suggested by the heads of the Democratic Left Alliance and Civic Platform.
My response to that is: let the bygones be bygones. But please do not interpret this answer as me confirming the reality of the described scenario. The United Right government can calmly continue its mission. The presidential elections will take place before the end of the term of the incumbent head of state and they will be conducted in the safest way for the voters. That is why I do not even want to enter into any negotiations about the motivations of one person or another, all the more so because my trust in the two gentlemen mentioned just now is, to put it mildly, extremely limited. However, there is a much more important matter at hand today than any political games or tricks. It turned out that Polish opposition parties do not recognize democratic rules. They do not respect the rule of law. They did not abstain from blocking the elections for a very simple reason: they would have failed badly if those were carried out. They took advantage of the coronavirus epidemic to do so. First, they claimed that it was impossible to vote because the polling stations were an epidemic threat, then they announced that it was also impossible to vote by absentee ballot. The Senate implemented parliamentary obstruction, following their rhetoric that it was us who violated the constitution in the first place. They gave words a completely opposite meaning. That is because, in this matter, the government majority did everything possible to meet the constitutional deadlines to implement the provisions of the Constitution, while the opposition did exactly the opposite. They used all their potential, so as not to allow the fulfillment of the constitutional obligation, hiding this practice behind a propaganda screen, linguistic manipulation and, as usual, aggression. The last factor, in my opinion, is both their way of social engineering, but also results from their emotional state and huge deficits in propriety. These are the reasons for today's state of affairs in Poland, and our task is to get out of this situation and conduct elections. I cannot say whether this will be possible to accomplish within the constitutional deadline, that is 75 days before the end of the term of the incumbent head of state, as it will be very difficult. Everything is now in the hands of the Supreme Court. The decision of the Supreme Court, which makes independent decisions, may, in our opinion, give an effect similar to the situation that arises when the office is vacated.
Will it be possible to change the candidates? Will it be necessary to collect signatures again?
Everything is in the hands of the Supreme Court. The recognition of the election as invalid will result in new elections, and thus the possibility to put forward new candidates. However, there is a different way and that is to order a repeat vote. Then we would have the continuation of the procedures that have already been initiated, which also includes the same list of candidates. In the first variant, the elections are held within 60 days from the moment of their announcement by the Speaker of the Sejm. I repeat: within 60 days, not after 60 days. That would mean that we could hold the elections as early as June. In the second variant, the deadline is set by the Speaker of the Sejm under the provisions of the Constitution (up to 75 days) or possibly, although as a former lawyer I doubt this scenario, the decision of the Supreme Court.
The consensus with the Agreement party assumes the amendment of the Absentee Ballot Voting bill adopted a few days ago, which means that one can expect a repetition of the Senate's actions in this matter - a 30-day hold-up period.
You are probably right. Nevertheless, everything depends on the Supreme Court, which is why we have to wait for it to make a decision. However, I want to make one thing clear. By rejecting the Senate's veto, we preserved the possibility of holding elections in accordance with the law and, at the same time, not introducing a state of emergency. Declaring a state of natural disaster in a situation where we are effectively counteracting the epidemic under existing laws would be an obvious and blatant violation of the Constitution. The opposition's proposal to use a state of emergency to postpone elections would be a serious and obvious constitutional tort. Therefore, we do not aim to follow these directions. What is more, it can be assumed with a high degree of probability that the introduction of a state of disaster would set the so-called legal industry on the course to obtain compensation. It cannot be ruled out, bearing in mind the reprivatization scandal in Warsaw, which made some law firms made a fortune exploiting Polish citizens, that it was one of the motives of the opposition and their supporting legal circles. Perhaps they saw this as an opportunity to make a big profit, because it even a short-term implementation of the state of emergency would give rise to effective claims for compensation, not only for small entrepreneurs but above all for large international corporations.
In your opinion, did the adoption of the bill on absentee ballot voting effectively end the attempts to block the presidential election?
I would like to make it clear once more that any decisions to be made now are on the side of the Supreme Court. We can expect certain decisions because, after all, we know the law. However, we do not know what the Supreme Court judges will decide.
Does the United Right coalition remain cohesive despite the recent disruptions?
We are a very broad formation. We have our quite radical wing, but we also have a second one - moderate or even very moderate, represented by Jarosław Gowin. The friction between us is, in my view, nothing new. It has occurred in the past, for example during the adoption of the judicial reform. The formula of the United Right camp, although it is sometimes problematic, is also the reason for our success. And we must not forget about it. It is thanks to the diversity of our views, diversity of opinions, that we are able to achieve victory, and thus to exercise power and to continue the march during which we change Poland. I will admit that sometimes this process needs to be slowed down and we have to bear some additional costs, but the balance sheet is still very much in the positive. And it is not so much for our formation, but primarily for the country. Therefore, I cannot rule out that other internal crises could affect us, however, I do hope that we will manage them should they appear. The United Right rule is really changing Poland for the better. Each of the parties that make up our coalition must always have that in the back of their minds. I hope that this will be the case. Hope, not certainty.
Could the scenario of blocking the presidential elections, leading to a crisis and perhaps even to destabilization in the country by overthrowing the government, have external support? Do you believe that possibility?
I must admit that at a certain stage of this turmoil I wanted to make a speech in the Sejm on behalf of our parliamentary club. I was going to start it by saying that apparently we have it too good in Poland, since those who want to spoil it are trying to make their voice heard. We are developing economically, modernizing ourselves as a country, people are living better and better. Even with regards to the epidemic, we are coping better than many other European countries. So let us not be fooled into thinking that some dislike the idea of having a new growing player in the European arena. The signals that some of the elite of Western countries are not delighted with the breakthrough of the countries that were subordinate to the Soviet Union for decades were already reaching us in the first half of the 1990s. I remember in particular a conversation with one of the vice-chancellors of Austria at that time, who was very positive about Poland. He told me honestly that those people do not have good intentions towards us and that we should use that much as we can. That referred to the destruction of our country during the war, the crimes, and then leaving our country under the yoke of the communists, despite the great sacrifice of our army during World War II. His advice was good. But unfortunately, at that time in Poland, people were already being told that our national conscience is not clean, that we have this "bad conscience". They were trying to instill shame in us. At that time I was talking to the most important European politicians and believe me that sympathy for Poland, recognizing us as an equal partner, was a rare phenomenon. Instead, I was met with either reluctance to support us, or a paternalistic approach, assuming our subordination, some lower status. This has changed a lot today, because we do not allow ourselves to be treated as such. This process began with our first rule, the late President Lech Kaczynski gave this movement a special dynamic, and now the United Right together with President Andrzej Duda continues his traditions. Here is where the idea of bringing back to power in Poland those who either accepted or fit in with this kind of post-colonial treatment of us, may have appeared. However, when we look at the way in which this intention was implemented, I am more inclined to admit that we were dealing with some kind of internal initiative, which is a much less serious undertaking.
Did you expect that so many years after the collapse of the Polish People’s Republic such a battle for democratic elections would have to be fought in Poland?
The outbreak of the epidemic certainly was a great excuse for those who wanted to block the election of a president and cause a political crisis. I mention the epidemic as an excuse not to underestimate it – it is serious and greatly important – but it does not allow the functioning of democracy. If it were not for the coronavirus, an attempt at blocking the elections would be incomparably more difficult. I believe that even if we did not have problems with the outbreak of COVID-19, the political situation in the country would still be destabilized. The language used by the opposition is proof of this, language which serves to reverse the meanings of certain expressions, for example calling everything we are doing a violation of the constitution, even though in fact it is exactly the opposite. But why does this happen? This happens because for most of the opposition democracy means their rule. When the voters lose power by decision, there is no democracy. The presidential election is the last chance for this group of people to regain at least part of their influence. There will be no elections for three years. In my opinion, at some point they believed that a win in the race for presidency is already in their pocket, and polls confirming this have also appeared. However, I am shocked that the leaders of the Civic Platform Party believed in the possibility of their candidate, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, winning the presidency. I will admit that I do not personally know her, but I assume they do. For some reason they believed she had potential. However, coming back to the question about the plan and possible support from the outside, I can say that sometimes there is such an interweaving of events which gives results that may suggest the existence of some serious political intention, but in this particular situation I am sceptical about such an interpretation.
Because of a change of power is a serious matter requiring a serious mechanism of action, and here it was difficult to find any seriousness. Of course, it can never be ruled out that some political plan was being implemented, however to the best of my knowledge it does not seem this way. I will not get into the details, but naturally I am not certain.
What amendments to the absentee ballot voting bill do you intend to implement?
Strengthening the role of the National Electoral Commission, as well as modifications concerning the procedure of delivering the election packages and other details, but it is still to soon to speak of them.
What about the receipt of the election packages? I believe this is what Jarosław Gowin wanted.
There will be a confirmation of delivery of the package because it is impossible to conduct confirmations of receipt in the circumstances of an epidemic. Postmen simply refuse to implement this procedure, because it requires close contact with a lot of people. Please note that even today important registered letters are not delivered in this way. Of course, their concerns must be understood and acknowledged. This does not mean, however, that there will not be any documentation confirming the delivery of the electoral packages. There definitely will be. This will be distributed by two-person teams. Each of them will have a mobile device marking the specific location of delivery, and the delivery will be documented by video recording and recorded in the minutes. I would like to, by the way, dispel any media rumours which speak of a shortage of people willing to distribute the election packages. It is quite the opposite. There are more than enough employees working in the Polish Post Office that can take part in this, because such participation entails additional remuneration.
Is Jarosław Gowin going to return to government?
Today the Deputy Prime Minister is Jadwiga Emilewicz. I have not heard anything about Mr. Gowin wanting to reclaim his former post, but this is the decision of the Agreement party.
The media have reported that Mr. Gowin is to demand Deputy Minister Zbigniew Gryglas to be dismissed from government.
I am aware of such reports, as well as information concerning removal from the ranks of the Agreement. The Agreement Party makes completely sovereign decisions in this matter. However, in the opinion of Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin, Mr. Gryglas is efficient and there is currently no recommendation to dismiss him. In this matter, I rely on the opinion of the Deputy Prime Minister. I also have no reason to interfere in the Agreement party.
Commentators predict that both you and the Law and Justice party are to seek revenge on the chairman of the Agreement party.
This is childish. I am in the business of politics and effective execution of politics, not emotional games. My goal is to maintain the rule of the United Right coalition and thus to transform and strengthen the country. Our candidate has a great chance to win the presidential elections, and in turn put us in a good position to fight for the next turn, and another majority victory. In regard to these categories, I always looked at these and any other negotiations within the United Right ruling camp. Speaking about personal feelings or something like “who’s who” is the effect of fantasies of publicists. Let me just say this: our coalition should last because it is extremely beneficial for Poland. If decisions were to be made regarding changes in its structure, these would only be within one club. I know, however, that others have different beliefs. This is simply my opinion.
Have you considered accelerated parliamentary elections?
If the course of events were to go according to a worst-case scenario, which is being foreseen by some, then such choices would be difficult to avoid. Please remember that such decisions could only be made by following a three-step procedure, and it is not ruled out that in the second stage of this procedure a new Prime Minister could be chosen from the opposition. I know that it was even being considered who to nominate.
Are there any personal motivations in the actions of the Speaker of the Senate beside political ones? Perhaps Mr. Grodzki, fearing the outcomes of the prosecutor’s investigation of corruption charges, is creating himself as a fierce enemy of the Law and Justice party, so that he could say that the possible charges are a punishment for his tenacity and not the effect of the witnesses’ testimonies?
I do not want to speak out on this case. I only know as much as I have read in the papers, including the testimonies of the dozens of people involved. This case looks serious, and if I were the Speaker, I would also take it seriously. However, I am afraid that not only Mr. Grodzki, but many others may have such personal motivations you are alluding towards. Although, I do believe that were it not for the investigation, the attitude of Mr. Grodzki would be different. There is extremely strong bustle in politicians from the opposition resulting from a deep sense of questioning their position as a result of the elections. They considered themselves the only elite, and us alongside our followers for usurpers, although they had no factual basis. They are able to accuse us of nonsense, reversing the meaning of expressions, fighting about the fall of Poland’s position, and calling for help from external institutions. This has nothing to do with reality. The people themselves feel that they are indeed living better, and Poland is gaining in the international arena. The international function – politically exposed, but with no real influence, and the person in charge is simply being pushed around by stronger players – is not a sign of success. Look at how the people in the Sejm, or the Senate, behave. This is more visible in the Sejm, however. On the one hand there is us, on the other – the Left. I completely disagree with the viewpoints of these people, but they behave normally. Inside all you can hear are screams, rude speeches, yelling, slander. These are clearly people with cultural deficiencies and deluded when it comes to being convinced of their uniqueness. They are incapable of verifying their political actions. They instigate Braun to behave in a completely outrageous way. Everyone who sits in the plenary chamber knows this. It is not hard to notice that this behaviour is a portrayal of their state of mind. To be perfectly honest, the presence of some of them in parliament is an insult to this institution, because people like that should not be here.
Given this is a legal possibility, do you expect the Civic Platform Party to withdraw Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska from the elections and replace her?
Assuming this is will be possible, I believe the decision will be made in Brussels or any place that is frequented by Mr. Tusk at the moment. If he does not want this, and he probably will not, who else would they recommend? In my opinion, they do not have a viable substitute that can change the positioning of the party in such a short campaign. This is definitely not a tempting prospect for Mr. Tusk, because such a scenario is connected with a high – or very high – risk of failure.
What will be consequences be for the opposition’s political scene given Mrs. Kidawa-Błońska is defeated? We are thinking about an electoral result of a few percent.
The Civic Platform Party will most likely face a crisis, and more so as the so-called candidate of one of the TV stations is rumoured to be establishing offices in all of Poland. At least this is what he is announcing. If he accomplishes this plan, it will be most likely to found a political party. The Civic Platform Party, very much divided after a political defeat, can most likely, at least in part, join its ranks. Besides, the competitors in feeding on the weakening Civic Platform will be strong. The Polish People’s Party, but also the Left, will not miss an opportunity to pluck from its electorate and structures. This is obviously speculation. Whatever happens, time will tell.
Source: Gazeta Polska