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Tusk Finally Appointed Polish PM; Kaczynski Makes a Bitter Exit

A momentous day in parliament was broadcast live in cinemas in the Polish capital as Donald Tusk was finally elected premier, while Jaroslaw Kaczynski made a peaceful – albeit bitter – exit.

Donald Tusk, leader of Poland’s democratic opposition, was finally elected prime minister by the new parliament on Monday evening, after a day-long session during which many of the obsessive themes of post-Communist Polish politics were resurrected.

On Tuesday at 09:00, Tusk is scheduled to deliver a speech in which he will outline his vision for governing to parliament. Then parliament, with its democratic opposition majority, is set to give a vote of confidence to the new government, whose composition Tusk will also present.

The previous day, the mood was festive among opposition politicians and their supporters: it would be the last day with Law and Justice (PiS) politician Mateusz Morawiecki as prime minister and just two more days before Donald Tusk, leader of the united democratic opposition, would have a government in place.

“READY, STEADY, GO!” Donald Tusk wrote on Monday morning on the X Platform (formerly Twitter), capturing the mood of eager expectation among the 11.5 million voters who chose one of the three democratic opposition parties in the October 15 election – Tusk’s own Civic Platform, the alliance between the agriarian PSL and Poland 2050 of Szymon Holownia, and The Left alliance – who together have 248 seats in the 460-seat lower house.

That same mood could be felt among opposition supporters at the Kinoteka cinema in the Palace of Culture and Science in the heart of Warsaw, who had gathered there to watch the live broadcast of the parliamentary session where Morawiecki would be rejected and Tusk elected on big screens.

The idea for the viewing came after millions of people were seen watching Sejm proceedings live on YouTube since the new parliament has been in place. The management of the cinema had to make two halls available for the event to satisfy demand.

The audience, mostly young and middle aged, ate popcorn and even drank beer as they watched the session on Monday, reacting to the various speeches by politicians. When it was Morawiecki’s turn, the audience laughed ironically when he expounded on noble ideals such as women’s rights and clapped generously at his departure.

When PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski made his intervention, in which he blamed others for the “terrible” situation in the country, someone in the audience shouted “It’s the Germans”, just seconds before Kaczynski indeed pointed at Germany as being the guilty party for the current state of affairs in Poland.

After Tusk was appointed, audience members all stood up and sang the Polish national anthem, “Marsz Dąbrowski”.

“I expect the new government to settle scores with PiS, for all the wrongdoing they have committed while in power,” 35-year-old Tomasz, who had taken the day off work and travelled to Warsaw from the central city Lodz to watch the parliamentary session in the cinema. “But it’s also important to unite this polarised country. I don’t think the new government should forget about the people that voted for PiS, those living in the provinces or having smaller incomes.”

Law and Justice party (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks at the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, in Warsaw, Poland, 11 December 2023. EPA-EFE/Rafal Guz

The journey

On November 27, despite the clear electoral victory of the democratic alliance, President Andrzej Duda reappointed Mateusz Morawiecki as prime minister given his party had won the most votes in the election, and charged him with forming the next government.

Over the subsequent two weeks allowed by the constitution for that task, Morawiecki failed to gather the majority needed to pass a vote of confidence for his government in the parliament; PiS holds 194 seats and by the end not even its putative partner, the far-right Confederation, was willing to support it.

Thus, on Monday morning, when outlining his plans for governing for the next four years, Morawiecki struck a somewhat defeatist tone.

By the afternoon, the Sejm had rejected Morawiecki’s government. Only PiS parliamentarians (except three, who were absent, including former justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro) and three from the smaller Kukiz’15 grouping voted for Morawiecki.

“This is the end of Polish democracy,” PiS leader Kaczynski told media in the corridors of the Sejm after the vote. He added that the new opposition, dominated by PiS, “would be tough but not total”.

Under Polish legislation, after Morawiecki failed in his mission, the choice of the next prime minister was left up to the Sejm. All 248 of the opposition alliance MPs united to propose Tusk as prime minister; no other counter-candidate emerged.

“I think our victory was won by the weakest in our society, those who felt most persecuted during the eight years of PiS rule,” Tusk said in an emotional speech to the full house after he was elected. “But I want to say to those people not to worry, we will fix everything together.”

Outgoing Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki (L) and Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski (R) after a confidence vote in the Sejm, in Warsaw, Poland, 11 December 2023. EPA-EFE/PAWEL SUPERNAK

The mandate

Tusk is set to outline his vision for governing to parliament on Tuesday morning and his own proposal for government should be approved later that evening. President Andrzej Duda could sign off on Tusk’s government on Wednesday; his presence in the Sejm on Monday suggests he is likely to acquiesce.

The priority for the Tusk government is to get the EU to start releasing the 36 billion euros due to Poland in pandemic recovery funds that were blocked over rule-of-law concerns. If all goes to plan, Tusk will travel on Thursday to Brussels to represent Poland at the European Council summit on Thursday and Friday, the key topic for which will be the war in Ukraine and its bid to join the EU.

The new government is also likely to move to restore the neutrality of key state institutions, including those of the justice system, public media and even the national bank. In a nod to PiS voters, Donald Tusk confirmed that, from 2024, the child subsidy would be increased to 800 zloty (180 euros) a month, as had been promised by PiS during the campaign. Tusk’s camp also promised increases to teachers’ salaries as one of the first measures to be implemented by the new government.

Adam Bodnar, praised for his independence while working in the post of Ombudsman, is set to become the next justice minister, taking on the momentous task of reversing PiS changes to the judiciary. Radoslaw Sikorski, an MEP and husband of journalist Anne Applebaum, is likely to return as foreign minister, a position he held under a previous Tusk government. Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bak, a politician representing The Left in Poland, will hold the portfolio for family and social affairs.

On Monday evening in the Sejm, Tusk’s election was for many an emotional moment. In his thank-you speech, he thanked Lech Walesa, Poland’s first democratic president and a winner of the Nobel Prize for peace, for giving him inspiration. Walesa, despite only days before having recovered from COVID-19, was present in the Sejm for the session.

Tusk, who has often been accused by PiS for acting in Germany’s interests, also referred to his two grandparents, both of whom resisted collaborating with Nazi Germany during World War II.

After Tusk’s speech, parliamentarians spontaneously started singing the Polish national anthem, which was echoed by the audiences watching on big screens in the capital’s cinemas.

In a telling epilogue to the evening, after the anthem was sung, Kaczynski approached the podium again to shout at Tusk: “You are a German agent!”

Source : Balkan Insight