Polish parliament elects new speaker after expenses scandal

Polish parliament elects new speaker after expenses scandal

Warsaw (AFP) – Poland’s parliament on Friday elected former interior minister Elzbieta Witek as its speaker, replacing Marek Kuchcinski, who was forced to quit over an expenses scandal involving his alleged use of government aircraft for personal travel.

Kuchcinski appeared on Thursday to have bowed to pressure from the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, to which he belongs, as it gears up for a general election in October.

However, both Kuchcinski and powerful PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski insisted that he had not broken any laws when using government planes and helicopters.

He did so around 100 times in just over a year, according to Polish media reports.

Witek, who is also a PiS member, had served as interior minister since May. 

With the PiS commanding a majority in parliament, Witek won backing from 245 of the 419 lawmakers present in the 460-seat lower house.

Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, backed by the main Civic Platform (PO) centrist opposition party, won the support of 135 lawmakers. 

Despite the uproar over Kuchcinski and allegations that other PiS-appointed or allied public officials have misused public funds, the party is set to win the October 13 general election, according to opinion polls.

The PiS is outpacing the splintered centrist and leftist opposition thanks to generous social spending, tax exemptions for workers under 26 as well as a highly divisive anti-LGBT crusade.

LGBT+ rights became a hot-button issue in the staunchly Catholic EU country after Kaczynski dubbed them a “threat” to society in April and put the issue high on his party’s campaign agenda.

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