After Poland’s recent elections returned the first single-party government in the country’s recent history, leftist elements in the country have taken to the streets to protest, complaining the government is undermining democracy.
Critics say the administration, formed by the eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party, is emulating Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in undermining democratic checks and balances.
But the government says it needs to strengthen its hold over state institutions and to ensure the country’s voice is heard abroad and the benefits of economic progress are shared more evenly. There was no indication so far that the government would change its course in response to the protests.
Saturday’s demonstrations were organised through social media in more than 20 Polish cities. In Warsaw, protesters filled a square outside the parliament, waving Polish and European Union flags and chanting “Stop destroying democracy!” A Warsaw city official put the number of protesters at 20,000.
This is the second week of protests by the anti-government faction. Last week numbers were initially said to have stoof at 50,000, but the number was later revised down to 20,000.
The row began when PiS, which scored a landmark election win in October, appointed five out of 15 judges to the constitutional court, Poland’s highest judicial body, in a move the opposition described as illegal.
PiS denies the charge. It said judges in the constitutional court need to be replaced to ensure the balance of power in the body, and that it was the previous government that broke the law when they made the original appointments.
But gaining control of the court is key for the party. It may determine whether it is able to implement its flagship policy plans, which include an overhaul of the retirement system.
Last week’s anti-government protest was followed the next day by a large pro-government demonstration, where the many European Union flags in evidence on Saturday were replaced by the traditional Polish Red-White colours.
The new Polish government has been notable for their sudden shift in foreign and domestic policy from the former ruling coalition. The new foreign secretary has been unashamedly outspoken on migration, doubling down on comments by his party leader on migrants introducing disease and parasites to Europe, and stating his position that there would be no welcome for them in Poland.
Meanwhile the Polish prime minister has banished European Union flags from government offices and press conferences, remarking future she only wanted to see “the most beautiful red and white Polish flags” when doing government business.
Reuters contributed to this report.