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

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s ruling party is pushing for the creation of a commission which it says would investigate…

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s ruling party is pushing for the creation of a commission which says it would investigate Russian influence. 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.

A vote on the bill could come as early as Wednesday.

Some fear the ruling party could use the planned commission to eliminate opposition leader Donald Tusk from political life. Tusk is the main opposition leader and the greatest threat to the ruling party, Law and Justice, as he 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 held 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.

The bill foresees the creation of a commission with the powers of prosecutor and judge. It could impose penalties, 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 seeking to give the proposed commission the powers of a court. The country’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.”

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 — before he went to Brussels to become 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.

Tusk 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.

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 critics fear a witch-hunt against themselves, particularly after right-wing lawmaker Janusz Kowalski admitted that he hoped “the result of the commission’s work will be bringing Donald Tusk before the State Tribunal.”

The spokesperson 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 there, it will go next to President Andrzej Duda, who has the power to sign or reject it.

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