The restoration of the Polish rule of law is not going smoothly. In the escalating conflict between the new government and the old rulers, President Andrzej Duda, who can, among other things, block laws, plays a central role. Who is this presidential politician?
Polish President Andrzej Duda received a storm of criticism this week after he pardoned and released two leaders of the former ruling Law and Justice party. In December, a court convicted them of abuse of power. Former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who rarely minces words, wondered aloud whether “an attempt should not be made to abolish the presidency.”
He has received support from PiS, the party in which Duda's loyalties lie: a sign of the times in the deeply polarized country. Since Donald Tusk's liberal Civic Platform Party came to power last month, a bitter power struggle has been raging between the new and old governments. The 51-year-old Duda, who regularly digs his heels in, plays a central role.
He argues with Tusk about public radio and the judiciary. When the convicted politicians were wanted by the police two weeks ago, Duda offered them shelter in his palace, where they remain detained. After their pardon, they were allowed to visit the president again on Wednesday. This resulted in a photo opportunity with a fatherly hug from Doda.
New conflicts arise. Tusk is at the beginning of the daunting task of restoring the rule of law after eight years of destruction by the populist Law and Justice Party. Duda does not hide his dissatisfaction with the new government path. He described Tusk's reforms as “terrorism against the so-called rule of law.” The president says he is open to cooperation, but his actions show otherwise.
Finished by the author
Arnot Le Clercq is the Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for De Volkskrant. Lives in Warsaw.
Initially, some thought that Duda would adopt a constructive stance after the change of power. But so-called “coexistence,” in which the government and the president belong to different political camps, has proven extremely difficult. “The lesson is that populists do not accept the natural change of power,” says political analyst Jaroslav Koyz, author of the recent book. New politics in Poland. “In the struggle with the new government, Duda is on the front line.”
A largely symbolic function
Duda is serving his second term and is therefore ineligible for re-election in the next presidential election in 2025. Until then, he could make things very difficult for the new government, despite his largely symbolic function. One Polish politician once said that “the president does not have sufficient tools to govern himself; “He has tools to disrupt the government.”
Duda has a big trump card: he must sign new legislation and can veto it. Thus Tusk faces a dilemma in his reforms. He can pass laws through Parliament that Duda may veto, or bypass the president. However, such creative solutions raise legal doubts, putting Tusk at risk of committing the same sins as his predecessors.
Catholicism and patriotism
Duda was born in 1972 in the university city of Krakow. His parents were academics. Conservative, Catholic and patriotic values played a major role in his youth. He cites as great examples such citizens as Pope John Paul II and President Lech Kaczynski (twin brother of PiS leader Jaroslaw), who died in an air disaster in Smolensk in 2010. After a short academic career at the Faculty of Law, where he earned a doctorate, Duda held political positions Various members of PiS, mostly in the shadows.
When party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski nominated Duda for the presidency in 2015, he was not even known to many party members. It surprised friend and foe: the rival candidate paled in comparison to the energetic young Duda, who had a talent for debate and campaigning. When he faced a more attractive rival five years later, the young mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaszkowski, he again won the election by a narrow margin. As an outspoken conservative, Duda is accepted by PiS's traditional supporters.
In principle, the president is a statesman who floats above the parties, and whoever becomes president also gives up his party membership. Although Duda said when he took office in 2015 that he was a president for all Poles, he is close to PiS and has close ties with party leader Kaczynski. “The president does not act as a guardian of the constitution and the state, but as a PiS politician,” the Catholic weekly wrote. Tegodnik Pozicny newly.
Even in recent years, Duda has done little to convince the outside world of his independence. After PiS came to power in 2015, it indiscriminately signed laws that harmed the rule of law. It earned him nicknames such as dlugopis, “fountain pen”, the last syllable of which also forms the name of the party. A telling joke from the time tells of PiS leader and cat lover Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who asks Duda to hold his cat for a moment. “How strange,” Kaczynski said when he retrieved the cat. “He signed it.” However, Duda sometimes turned against PiS, which was not appreciated.
By unleashing legislation that undermines the rule of law, Duda has, according to his critics, harmed the very constitution he is supposed to protect. Former Chief Justice Adam Strzembush counted at least thirteen cases in which Duda acted unconstitutionally. This also plays a role in the president's obstructive position in the conflict with the new government, says analyst Koise. As president he is partly responsible. In fact, he's defending himself – it's personal. The Tusk group posted a video about Duda on X this week with the ominous words “reckoning is coming.”
Opinion polls show that Duda's popularity is declining. daily Republic He attributes this to the role he has played for himself since the last election, “somewhere between opposition leader and substitute prime minister.” For Law and Justice, now an opposition party, the president remains an outpost in the struggle for his political legacy. This week, party members gathered to protest in front of the Public Prosecutor's Office, one of the institutions where the old power dominates the new power. “The president is our hope,” party leader Kaczynski said.
“Pop culture enthusiast. Unable to type with boxing gloves on. Analyst. Student. Explorer.”