My, my, what a kerfuffle! Friday the 13th was a truly tainted day for the Polish government yesterday. The Polish political scene has been bubbling for the past few weeks after members of right-wing LPR (League of Polish Families) decided to put forward proposals for an amendment to Articles 30 and 38 of the Polish Constitution. In their view, Articles 30 and 38 should be amended to protect the rights of the unborn child as well as elderly people. Their proposals would in effect put a complete ban on all forms of abortion and euthanasia.
LPR began shoring up support amongst Catholic members of their coalition partners PiS (Law and Justice) and Samoobrona (Self-Defence) as well as Catholic members of the more liberal-minded PO (Civic Platform). The public debate that ensued resembled a political mud-slinging match with right-wing politicians asking their fellow parliamentarians to decide whether they were pro-death or pro-life. The discussion basically became an debate on abortion. The liberals in Poland’s Sejm including most of PO and SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) were all adamant that the present Constitution regulates this issue satisfactorily.
Decision time came yesterday when the Sejm got down to business. Five amendments to the Constitution were put forward – each concerning one or both of Articles 30 and 38, each in some way restricting abortion (which is currently illegal in Poland anyway). Marek Jurek, the Speaker of the House and part of the extreme Catholic wing of PiS (former ZChN member) opened proceedings in sombre mood urging MPs to search their conscience and do the right
wing thing. He had previously stated that this vote was the litmus test of Poland’s moral compass and he laid all his cards on the table.
Before the vote, fault lines had already begun to appear in the ruling coalition. All LPR members wanted a complete ban on abortion and euthanasia whereas many PiS members were unsure. Voting began. The first proposal was thrown out. The second proposal also fell at the final hurdle. LPR began to panic and in the recess one of its members started distributing copies of a letter a Polish bishop had written on the evils of abortion leaving them on all the seats of the Sejm. Marek Suski, a PiS politician was so disgusted with the agitation of his coalition colleagues he began collecting the leaflets and ripping them up. The coalition cracks had begun to appear.
Following the recess voting began. The third proposal of amending the Constitution was thrown out, the fourth also fell. PM Jarosław Kaczyński of PiS appealed to members to do the right thing and deputy PM Roman Giertych of LPR also felt the need to say his bit which, in the final analysis, probably consolidating the more liberal-minded PiS members to vote against the fifth proposal which was also thrown out. The fissures were now visible to all.
Soon after voting finished, the Speaker Marek Jurek (of the right-wing PiS faction) called a press conference and announced he would be resigning as Speaker. He had made his non-objective views clear to the House prior to voting. All his eggs were in one basket and all his eggs were broken.
What happens next will be interesting. Experts believe a split within PiS is imminent. Others believe very little will take place as the main opposition party PO does not have the energy to turn PiS’s setback into political weaponry. One thing is clear – LPR’s Roman Giertych has become the undisputed leader of Poland’s right-wing hardcore.