Conservative Polish President Wins Re-election

Polish President Andrzej Duda flashes V-signs after addressing supporters with his wife Agata as exit poll results were announced during the presidential election in Pultusk, Poland, on July 12, 2020 . JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP
Polish President Andrzej Duda flashes V-signs after addressing supporters with his wife Agata as exit poll results were announced during the presidential election in Pultusk, Poland, on July 12, 2020. JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP

 

Polish President Andrzej Duda has squeezed past his europhile rival to win re-election, official results showed on Monday, but the narrow victory puts his allies in the populist right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party government on the back foot.

Seeking close ties with US President Donald Trump, Duda has vowed to tighten already highly restrictive laws against abortion and has campaigned against LGBT rights.

The incumbent won a new five-year term with 51 percent in Sunday’s vote against Warsaw’s liberal mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who had promised to mend ties with the European Union.

Experts said the result means the governing PiS party, which has been criticised at home and abroad for controversial reforms of the judiciary seen as eroding democratic freedoms, will face a more confident opposition.

“It’s a small victory,” said Kazimierz Kik, a political expert from Kielce University.

“President Duda has won the election but the real success is for Rafal Trzaskowski and the opposition which has gained ground,” he said.

Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a Warsaw University political scientist, said the high mobilisation of young people for Trzaskowski pointed to “a new opposition force”.

But she warned there was also a “realistic” risk that Poland could begin to resemble Hungary, which has been accused of drifting towards authoritarianism under nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

‘Poland divided in two’

The government faces the immediate challenge of dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, which is pushing Poland into a recession — the country’s first since the fall of communism three decades ago.

“Poland is split down the middle,” said Witold Orlowski, a professor at Warsaw University of Technology Business School, predicting “a very difficult period” ahead.

“On the one hand, even this slim victory is a PiS success and will allow it to continue to govern, at least technically,” Orlowski said.

“On the other hand the social and economic situation will deteriorate and a large part of the electorate will blame the PiS.”

On the foreign policy front, experts said Duda’s close ties with Trump could also spell trouble ahead if the US president fails to win re-election in November.

Duda’s support was particularly strong among older voters in rural areas and small towns and in the east of the country, while Trzaskowski has performed well with a younger electorate in larger cities and western regions on the border with Germany.

“The result of these elections is a Poland divided in two with a not-so-rosy future, as it will be difficult to ease the division and to restore the relationship between the two sides,” analyst Kazimierz Kik told AFP.

White-red vs rainbow

The election had been due to be held in May but was delayed because of the pandemic.

Duda won the first round of voting on June 28 with 43.5 percent against 10 challengers, including Trzaskowski, who came second with 30.4 percent.

Ahead of Sunday’s run-off vote, Trzaskowski campaigned hard to sway voters who backed other opposition candidates.

Four days before the first round, Duda became the first foreign leader to visit the White House since the start of the pandemic and received praise from Trump for doing an “excellent job”.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro characterised the second round vote as “a clash of two visions of Poland, the white-red and rainbow-coloured,” referring to the colours of Poland’s national flag and the symbol widely used by the LGBT community.

Duda has railed against “LGBT ideology”, likening it ot a new form of communist brainwashing, and has vowed to change the constitution during his second term to rule out adoptions by same-sex couples.

 

AFP

Zero Turnout As Poland Holds Bizarre Ghost Election

Szymon Holownia, a candidate for Polish President wears a face mask as he walks in front of the Polish Supreme Court in Warsaw, on April 30, 2020.  JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP.

 

Poland’s election day Sunday will be one for the history books as polling stations remain closed and turnout will clock in at zero due to a political crisis set off by the coronavirus pandemic.

The EU member of 38 million people has found itself in the bizarre “Twilight Zone” predicament in which the presidential ballot is formally neither postponed nor cancelled, because the government and opposition were unable to agree on a constitutional and safe solution.

“We’re in a fog of legal absurdity,” Warsaw-based political scientist Stanislaw Mocek told AFP, echoing the widespread head-scratching and concern.

The government “should have declared a natural disaster to lawfully postpone the election” under the constitution.

The right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has explained away its refusal to do so by saying Poland’s coronavirus situation is not severe enough to warrant the move.

The party has also implied that were it to declare a natural disaster, multinational corporations present in Poland would claim huge sums in compensation that the state would be hard-pressed to pay.

But the liberal opposition and many observers also see another rationale for why the government was set on the May 10 date, despite opinion surveys showing that three out of four Poles wanted a deferral.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Cases In Russia Surpass 200,000

The opposition, which has long called for a delay over concerns that a free, fair and safe election is impossible under lockdown, believes the PiS wants the ballot held as soon as possible so that its ally and incumbent Andrzej Duda wins.

The president is the current frontrunner and could secure a second term in the first round with 50 percent of the vote, but his support would likely drop once the economic effects of the pandemic are felt.

Last month, the PiS-controlled parliament passed a law stating the election would be held by postal vote only in a bid to quiet health concerns while maintaining the date.

But the opposition-controlled senate sat on the legislation for weeks before rejecting it, leaving the government no time to organise the election.

On Wednesday, the PiS and its allied Agreement party announced that the poll would be declared null and void after the fact.

“After the May 10, 2020 date passes and the Supreme Court annuls the election as expected in light of the fact that the vote will not have taken place, the speaker of parliament will announce a new presidential election for the first available date,” they said in a statement.

AFP

Microsoft To Invest $1bn In Poland, Create New Cloud Centre

In this file photo taken on February 25, 2020 Microsoft Corporation Chief Executive Officer, Satya Nadella, gestures as he addresses the Future Decoded Tech Summit in Bangalore. Manjunath Kiran / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 25, 2020 Microsoft Corporation Chief Executive Officer, Satya Nadella, gestures as he addresses the Future Decoded Tech Summit in Bangalore. Manjunath Kiran / AFP

 

Microsoft on Tuesday announced it would invest one billion dollars in Poland to expand its operations, including the creation of a new regional cloud-computing data hub.

The US tech giant said it had signed an agreement with Poland’s state-backed National Cloud Operator to provide “cloud solutions for all industries and companies in Poland”, according to a statement on its website.

“Another great global player chose Poland to locate its investment, worth as much as $ 1 billion, the largest in our region of Europe,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday on his official Facebook page.

“This is another important step on the road to digitisation and accelerating the development of the entire Polish economy.”

The investment project is expected to last seven years, Microsoft said.

Microsoft is among the global leaders in providing cloud services — an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

As well as charging for the service, cloud operators are able to harvest huge caches data and open up many other revenue streams.

The National Cloud Operator was set up two years ago by the state-controlled PKO Bank and the Polish National Development fund to speed development of the digital economy.

Once among the EU’s most rapidly expanding economies, growth in Poland is set to shrink by 3.4 per cent this year, according to a revised government projection, down from an expansion of 3.7 per cent of GDP forecast prior to the pandemic.

 

AFP

EU Launches Judicial Freedom Case Against Poland

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The EU on Wednesday launched a new legal challenge against reforms in Poland that Brussels says threaten judicial independence.

The move is the latest round in a long-running tussle between the European Commission — the bloc’s executive — and right-wing governments in Eastern Europe it accuses of undermining fundamental EU values.

Wednesday’s case is the fourth lodged by commission against Warsaw since the conservative government there began seeking new oversight over judges’ work and careers.

Some of the reforms have been already been softened or rolled back, but the Polish government is pushing ahead with new disciplinary rules opposed by Brussels.

A commission statement said the latest “infringement procedure” was “designed to safeguard the independence of judges in Poland” against “political control”.

It was announced by Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, who travelled to Poland in January to raise concerns with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government.

“Member states can reform their judiciary, but they have to do it without breaching the EU treaties,” she told reporters during a Brussels video briefing.

“There are clear risks that the provisions regarding the disciplinary regime against judges can be used for political control of the content of judicial decisions, among others.

“This is a European issue, because Polish courts apply European law. Judges from other countries must trust that Polish judges act independently.

“This mutual trust is the foundation of our single market,” she warned, giving Warsaw two months to respond to an action that “can not have come as a surprise”.

– Judicial unease –

According to the commission, the law “increases the number of cases in which the content of judicial decisions can be qualified as a disciplinary offence.

“As a result, the disciplinary regime can be used as a system of political control of the content of judicial decisions.”

In a sign of unease, a German court in February refused to extradite a suspect to Poland, citing fears that the judicial reforms might deprive him of a fair trial.

Three infringement procedures have already been launched against Poland since 2017.

The first two, concerning retirement conditions for judges of the ordinary courts and the Supreme Court, were upheld by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

In the third case, concerning the new rules for judges, the court ordered Poland on April 8 to suspend the new disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court, pending a final ruling.

The head of the Polish Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, ordered the suspension, but the decision was challenged and the matter referred to the Constitutional Court.

The European Commission has also initiated a procedure under Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland in 2017, which in theory can lead to political sanctions.

This mechanism, provided for in the event of a “serious breach” of the rule of law in an EU member, has also been activated, this time by the European Parliament, against Viktor Orban’s Hungary.

AFP

Poland Joins Other Countries, Announces First Coronavirus Case

(FILES) This file handout illustration image obtained February 3, 2020, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. 
Lizabeth MENZIES / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / AFP

 

Poland on Wednesday announced its first case of coronavirus while adding that nearly 70 people were being tested for the disease.

The man, who had visited Germany, is “not part of a risk group” and his life is not in danger, Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski told a news conference.

He indicated the man was not elderly, whose lives are at greater risk.

READ ALSO: Iran Rejects US Virus Aid Offer Amid Sanctions

He was hospitalised in the western city of Zielona Gora with a high fever and other symptoms of the disease that has killed more than 3,000 people and infected around 92,000 globally.

Szumowski said the patient had “a relatively little contact” with other people.

Another 68 people are undergoing tests in Polish hospitals to determine whether they are suffering from COVID-19, while around 500 are in quarantine, Szumowski said.

AFP

Catholic Bishop Probed Over Alleged Sexual Abuse

Bishop Jan Szkodon sprinkles head of the faithful with ashes, during the celebration of the Ash Wednesday and a Holy Masse for the Homeland and the victims of the disaster in Smolensk monthly anniversary of the tragedy, at the Royal Wawel Cathedral. Krakow, Poland. Wednesday, February 10, 2016.
Bishop Jan Szkodon sprinkles head of the faithful with ashes, during the celebration of the Ash Wednesday at the Royal Wawel Cathedral. Krakow, Poland on February 10, 2016. AFP

 

The Catholic Church is investigating claims that a bishop in Poland sexually abused a young girl decades ago, the clergyman confirmed on Monday. 

Jan Szkodon, a bishop in the southern city of Krakow, said in a statement that the Vatican had told him of the inquiry, adding that the accusations were “false and harmful” — though he gave no further detail.

The Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper carries claims that he molested a 15-year-old girl in 1998.

The accuser in the case told the paper she came forward after seeing a documentary on abuse in the Church — a film that went viral on YouTube last year and led to a slew of new allegations.

The film, called “Tell No One”, includes hidden camera footage of victims who are now adults confronting elderly priests about the abuse they suffered decades earlier.

Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government, which is close to the Church, raised jail terms for convicted paedophiles to a maximum 30 years in the wake of the documentary.

The claims against 73-year-old Szkodon cannot be prosecuted in the courts, however, as they are too far in the past.

“I firmly declare that the accusations against me are false and harmful to my reputation which I intend to defend,” Szkodon said in a statement published on the Krakow diocese website.

“Until this matter is clarified, I will not engage in any pastoral work.”

In March last year, the Polish Church published a report admitting nearly 400 of its clergy had sexually abused children and minors over the last three decades, reflecting claims made by a charity focused on abuse in the Church.

Allegations against senior clergy are rare in Poland — though an archbishop quit in 2002 after being accused of molesting choirboys.

Poland Begins Evacuating EU Citizens From China

British nationals evacuated from Wuhan in China amid the novel coronavirus outbreak are helped by personnel (high visibility jackets) as they disembark a chartered passenger jet at the Royal Air Force station RAF Brize Norton in Carterton, west of London, on January 31, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

 

Poland’s flagship LOT airline said Friday it was sending a passenger plane to Beijing to evacuate Polish and other EU nationals at risk from the deadly novel coronavirus. 

“The plane will fly from Warsaw to Beijing on Friday and will bring LOT crew members remaining in China and other Polish and EU passengers who decide to return,” LOT said in a press release.

The airline announced earlier it was suspending all flights to China until at least February 9, but would accommodate Polish government requests to evacuate more citizens as needed.

Poland’s deputy health minister Waldemar Kraska said separately on Friday that the government was making arrangements to evacuate 31 Poles from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Numerous countries, including France, Britain, Japan, and South Korea, have already begun airlifting their citizens out of Wuhan.

“We’re in the process of implementing a plan to transport Poles from Wuhan — currently 31 people have declared they want to return,” he told reporters in Warsaw.

The flight, expected in the coming days, “will be destined for France, and then directly to Poland,” Kraska added.

The Wuhan metropolis is at the heart of the SARS-like virus epidemic that has so far killed 213 people and led the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday to declare it an international public health emergency.

The city of 11 million has been subject to an unprecedented lockdown, preventing residents from leaving in a bid to stop the deadly virus from spreading further.

A “dozen or so people” were in under observation in Polish hospitals for the presence of the virus, while “more than 500 people are being monitored by sanitation services,” Kraska said on Friday.

AFP

Eight dead, Including Children, In Poland Gas Explosion

 

 

Eight people, including four children, were killed after a gas explosion destroyed a house in a ski resort in the south of Poland late Wednesday, local authorities said.

Around 200 rescuers had scoured the debris of the house in Szczyrk on Thursday morning to find the bodies. No one else is believed to have been inside when the explosion occurred.

“It appears that this is the final toll,” local prefect Jaroslaw Wieczorek told reporters but added that rescuers will continue looking just to make sure.

The local gas distributor, PSG, said that the explosion had been preceded by a sudden drop in pressure in the gas pipeline, which could indicate that the pipeline had been accidentally punctured during nearby construction works.

Six Dead, Two Missing After Gas Explosion In Poland

 

Six people, including two children, were killed and another two were reported missing after a gas explosion destroyed a house in a ski resort in the south of Poland late Wednesday, local authorities said.

Around 100 firefighters were still scouring the debris of the house in Szczyrk on Thursday morning in search of possible survivors.

“We’re still hoping for a miracle,” local prefect Jaroslaw Wieczorek told reporters.

READ ALSO: Dozens Of Migrants Drown As Boat Sinks Off Mauritania

He said that two of the bodies recovered were children and the other four were adults.

Eight people were believed to have been in the house when the explosion occurred, he added.

The local gas distributor, PSG, said that the explosion had been preceded by a sudden drop in pressure in the gas pipeline, which could indicate that the pipeline had been accidentally punctured during nearby construction works.

Poland Rejects Trump’s Bid For Russia’s G7 Return

From L) Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a work session in the Casino of Biarritz on August 26, 2019, on the third and last day of the annual G7 Summit attended by the leaders of the world’s seven richest democracies, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.  Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP

 

Poland’s president on Monday opposed a proposal by US President Donald Trump to reintegrate Russia into the elite G7 group, insisting that “business as usual” was unacceptable given Moscow’s occupation of Ukrainian territory.

“Should we have a business as usual approach towards Russia?… I believe that we cannot under the current circumstances,” President Andrzej Duda told reporters at a joint press conference with visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.

The issue of Russia’s reintegration into the G7 group of the world’s rich nations divided leaders at its summit last week in France, as Trump pushed for Moscow to be allowed back after its 2014 expulsion.

Russia was kicked out of what was then the Group of Eight after it annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a move never recognised by the international community.

But Trump, who will host next year’s G7 summit, said he would invite Russia to the event, a move supported by France but criticised by Britain and Germany. Poland is not a G7 member.

Speaking alongside Duda on Monday, Pence struck a different tone, insisting that it was crucial to “remain vigilant” towards Russia.

He accused Moscow of attempting to meddle in elections and use its oil and gas supplies to “divide our alliance”, in an apparent reference to the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline set to send Russian gas to Germany.

Washington and Warsaw, among others, oppose the pipeline, fearing it will increase Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supplies which Moscow could then use to exert political pressure.

Poland has long cultivated close ties with the US, which it regards as the primary guarantor of its security within the NATO alliance and as a bulwark against Russia, its Soviet-era master with whom tensions still run high.

Judicial independence 

Pence and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki were to sign a joint US-Polish declaration on digital infrastructure security later Monday.

“This declaration, we believe, will set a vital example for the rest of Europe on the broader question of 5G,” Pence had told reporters earlier.

The US is pressing allies, with mixed success, to reject Chinese 5G technology, especially from the giant mobile phone company Huawei.

Washington fears that Huawei will provide Beijing with a way to spy on communications from the countries that use its products and services.

Pence also said he had discussed the “importance of judicial independence” with Duda in the wake of a string of controversial judicial reforms pushed through by Poland’s right-wing government since taking office in 2015.

The EU has slammed the measures as a threat to the rule of law and ultimately democracy.

Pence also said that Poles travelling to the US would soon be covered by Washington’s visa-waiver programme, allowing them unrestricted entry.

“We are literally weeks away from being able to make that a reality,” Pence said.

The US vice president travelled to Warsaw for Sunday ceremonies marking 80 years since the outbreak of World War II.

President Trump had planned to attend the war commemorations but cancelled at the last minute to monitor Hurricane Dorian.

Without going into detail, Trump confirmed on Sunday in Washington that he had only postponed his trip and would travel to Poland “soon”.

AFP

Germany Asks Poland For Forgiveness 80 Years After WWII

Invited Heads of State and officials attend a military ceremony as part of the commemorations marking 80 years since the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 2019 at Pilsudski Square in Warsaw, Poland. Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP

 

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday asked Poland’s forgiveness for history’s bloodiest conflict during a ceremony in the Polish city of Wielun, where the first World War II bombs fell 80 years ago.

“I bow before the victims of the attack on Wielun. I bow before the Polish victims of German tyranny. And I ask your forgiveness,” Steinmeier said in both German and Polish.

Poland suffered some of the worst horrors of World War II: nearly six million Poles died in the conflict that killed more than 50 million people overall.

READ ALSO: Five Killed, 21 Injured In Texas Mass Shooting

That figure includes the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, half of them Polish.

“It was Germans who committed these crimes against humanity in Poland. Anyone calling them things of the past, or claiming that the vile rule of terror of the National Socialists in Europe was a mere footnote of German history, is passing judgement on him or herself,” Steinmeier added in the presence of his Polish counterpart.

The line appeared to be a clear reference to the German far-right, whose co-leader Alexander Gauland once called the 12-year Third Reich a “speck of bird poop” on an otherwise glorious German past.

“As Germany’s Federal President, let me assure you that we will not forget,” Steinmeier said.

“We want to, and we will, remember. And we will bear the responsibility that our history imposes upon us.”

Polish President Andrzej Duda for his part denounced Nazi Germany’s attack on Poland, calling it “an act of barbarity” and “a war crime.”

“I am convinced that this ceremony will go down in the history of Polish-German friendship,” he added, thanking Steinmeier for his presence.

 ‘Working for tolerance’ 

The heads of state will later tour the Wielun museum and meet with local survivors of the September 1, 1939 bombing.

“I saw dead bodies, the wounded… Smoke, noise, explosions. Everything was burning,” Wielun bombing survivor Tadeusz Sierandt, 88, told AFP ahead of the anniversary.

The carpet-bombing came one week after Germany and the Soviet Union secretly agreed to carve up Eastern Europe between them by signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans attended a separate dawn remembrance Sunday in Westerplatte, where a Nazi German battleship opened fire on a Polish fort on September 1, 1939.

Timmermans spoke of how “we Europeans could honour the memory of those who fell for our freedom here.”

“We express it (gratitude) by… working for tolerance, working for mutual respect, working to remove the feeding ground of those who propose intolerance. Who believe that hate is a good engine for politics. Who believe that confrontation between nations, between different cultures, is a good thing,” he said.

Hitler’s attacks on Poland led Britain and France to declare war on Nazi Germany. On September 17, the Soviet Union in turn invaded Poland.

After the Nazis tore up the pact with Moscow, two alliances battled it out to the end: the Axis powers led by Germany, Italy and Japan and the victorious Allied forces led by Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States.

Later Sunday, US Vice President Mike Pence, Steinmeier and Duda will deliver speeches at a ceremony in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square, the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

 ‘Demand compensation’ 

Although it has been 80 years since the war started, there are still unresolved matters according to Poland, which says Germany owes it war reparations.

A parliamentary commission is currently working on a new analysis of the extent of Poland’s wartime human and material losses.

“We have to talk about, remember and demand the truth regarding those losses. We have to demand compensation,” Morawiecki said on Sunday at the Westerplatte ceremony.

When it comes to reparations, however, Berlin believes the case is closed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will attend the Warsaw ceremony, but no other major world leaders are expected.

US President Donald Trump had planned to attend the war commemorations but cancelled at the last minute so that he could monitor Hurricane Dorian.

Also not attending are French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, while Russian President Vladimir Putin was not invited — unlike 10 years ago — because of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The Polish presidency had said the commemorations would be attended by around 40 foreign delegations, a few of them led by heads of state.

They include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky whose partnership matters to Poland, which believes its security depends on Ukraine remaining outside of Russia’s sphere of influence.

AFP

Lightning Storm Kills Several, Injures 12 In Poland

 

“A few” people died and 12 were injured Thursday during a sudden thunderstorm that saw lightning strike a metal cross in the Tatra mountains in southern Poland, rescuers said. 

“A dozen people were struck by lightning around Mount Giewont,” mountain rescue service chief Jan Krzysztof told reporters.

“There were a few deaths in different parts of the Tatra mountains,” he said, without giving an exact toll.

READ ALSO: Firefighters Stabilise Canary Islands Fire As Residents Return Home

Poland’s TVN24 commercial news channel reported that lightning struck the large cross on the Giewont summit near the mountain resort town of Zakopane at a time when many hikers were present.

They had set out to climb Poland’s highest mountains when the skies were clear earlier in the day. Despite the poor weather conditions, rescuers have set out by helicopter to look for the victims.

AFP