Poland’s ruling party to lift media curbs in parliament

Reforms are taking a toll on the right-wing government's popularity: A banner demanding that PiS chief Jarosław Kaczyński leave Poland. [Reuters]

Poland’s ruling conservatives announced plans on Monday (9 January) to reinstate full media access to parliament in a bid to defuse a political standoff, but the main opposition party said it was not yet ready to end its blockade of the legislature.

Moves by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party to curb the number of journalists in parliament and their right to record proceedings drove opposition lawmakers to start a sit-in in the main hall in mid-December.

A decision by PiS to move a vote on the 2017 budget to a side room in parliament further exacerbated tensions between the one-year-old eurosceptic government and opposition parties.

“We want to end the crisis in a conciliatory way … We want both sides to take a step back,” said the speaker of the Senate upper house, Stanislaw Karczewski.

He gave no details on when the restrictions would end, although some provisions appeared to be lifted on Monday.

Speaking after a meeting with opposition parties later on Monday, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński said some lawmakers had agreed to leave the plenary hall, which they have occupied through the Christmas and New Year holidays.

“They will not block the speaker’s podium anymore,” Kaczynski told reporters, adding that more talks would be held on Tuesday (10 January).

Polish President signs controversial media law

Polish President Andrzej Duda yesterday (7 January) signed into law a controversial bill handing the conservative government control of state media, despite EU concern and condemnation from rights watchdogs.

The crisis could escalate further, however, with parliament due to hold its next session on Wednesday.

The main opposition group, the centrist Civic Platform, which lost power to PiS in the 2015 election, said it would continue its sit-in until parliament held a new vote on the 2017 budget, which it believes was approved illegally.

“The reasons for which we started the protests haven’t disappeared,” PO lawmaker Jan Grabiec told Reuters. “These are issues surrounding the passage of the budget.”

Disagreement over budget, education

The PO has accused PiS of denying their lawmakers full access to parliamentary proceedings over the budget and has said it was not certain whether PiS had had a sufficient number of lawmakers present to validate the vote.

PiS says it acted within the law.

The political tensions and criticism from the European Union that PiS is undermining democratic checks and balances do not appear to have harmed public support for PiS, which supports more generous welfare provision for poorer Poles and greater prominence for traditional Catholic values in public life.

Abortion protests rock Polish government, prompt backtrack

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has looked firmly in control since sweeping to power a year ago but it may have pressed its conservative agenda too far by initially backing a virtual ban on abortion.

A poll by the IBRIS pollster conducted for the news portal Onet.pl on Monday showed support for PiS up almost five percentage points since December at 35% while PO was down two points at 17%.

Its decision to reinstate media access is not the first instance of PiS rowing back on a policy – it also shelved proposals for a near-total ban on abortion last year due to public pressure.

However, President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, signed into law yesterday an overhaul of Poland’s education system that teachers’ groups have criticised as costly and badly prepared. Some critics see the law as a throwback to Communist times.

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