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Poland’s Reckoning with Populist Misrule

Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his new government face the monumental challenge of rooting out corruption and politicization across all of the country’s major institutions. Fortunately, while the previous government sought to capture the Polish state, it didn’t finish the job.

WARSAW – It has been a month since Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government took office, and the task now is to rebuild Polish democracy after eight years of corrupt misrule under Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS) party. No country in Europe has ever faced a political transition quite like this one.

After all, Poland’s veto-wielding president, Andrzej Duda, remains loyal to the ousted populist government, and Tusk’s coalition government lacks the votes to remove him from office despite Duda’s myriad unconstitutional actions. With another 15 months left on his term, Duda will have many opportunities to plunge Poland into chaos at Kaczyński’s behest.

Most of the damage PiS has caused to Polish institutions also remains. For example, when the party came to power in 2015, it combined the offices of prosecutor-general and minister of justice, and handed that role to Zbigniew Ziobro, a far-right partisan who immediately began “reforming” the courts. The National Council of the Judiciary, which nominates judges, was duly purged and then stacked with PiS cronies. Soon enough, the PiS government had illegally politicized and seized control of the Constitutional Court, followed eventually by the Supreme Court.