Court orders Polish PM to correct election rally comment

File photo. Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki addresses students during the inauguration of the school year 2018/2019 in the Complex of Building and Information Technology Schools named after Mikolaj Kopernik (Nikolaus Kopernikus) in Zory, southern Poland, 3 September 2018. [Andrzej Grygiel/EPA/EFE]

A court on Wednesday ordered Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to correct within 48 hours comments he made comparing his government’s record with its predecessor’s, during a crucial election campaign.

The court of appellation ordered Morawiecki to broadcast a statement before the evening news on two major TV stations admitting he was factually wrong in claims about his administration’s road infrastructure programme.

The state news agency PAP quoted the judge as saying that Morawiecki had to admit that a statement he made to a 15 September election rally was wrong.

The prime minister had told the rally: “We are spending more money in a period of 1-1.5 years on local roads than was spent by the PO-PSL coalition in eight years.”

The opposition centrist Civic Platform (PO) had brought a lawsuit against him over the statement, made at a gathering of his ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party ahead of October local elections.

Morawiecki’s lawyer said he disagreed with the court ruling but it “will be most probably followed”.

The opposition immediately called on the prime minister to resign.

“I want to say very seriously today: this is a discredit and shame, a man of honour would resign in such a situation,” the head of PO, Grzegorz Schetyna, was quoted by PAP as saying.

The election race is neck-in-neck.

“This is an important moment of this campaign, but it is hard to say if it is a turning point,” said Anna Materska-Sosnowska, political scientist at Warsaw University.

“PM Morawiecki wants to appeal to centrist and undecided voters, but in such a situation it may be difficult. The PiS electorate will probably ignore this (ruling).”

The PiS, in power since 2015, is at odds with Brussels which accuses it of violating European Union values by its moves to reform the judiciary and control state media.

Observers say results of the local elections will be an indicator of what could happen in elections to the European Parliament and Poland’s general election next year.

Support for PiS in opinion polls is around 40%, but some researchers say the opposition could match the eurosceptic party’s support if united in one anti-PiS bloc.

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