Polish opposition ends blockade of parliament

AP News
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Posted: Jan 12, 2017 7:03 AM
Polish opposition ends blockade of parliament

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish opposition party Civic Platform ended its blockade of the speaker's podium in parliament on Thursday, stepping back in what had been a bitter standoff with the populist ruling party.

Lawmakers from Civic Platform and another centrist party, Modern, had staged the blockade since Dec. 16 over a plan to curb media access to parliament — which has since been dropped — and then over a budget they say was passed illegally.

Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna said his party was ending the protest, declaring it at least a partial success because it pushed the ruling party to abandon the media restrictions. He vowed to continue to oppose the budget vote in other ways, and appealed to the president not to sign the budget.

Modern ended its protest Wednesday.

The developments appear largely to be a victory for the ruling Law and Justice party, which prevailed in its refusal to repeat a vote on the budget which it insists was held legally. Its lawmakers passed the budget in a side room in parliament because of the opposition's blockade in the plenary hall.

The underlying matter in the whole standoff has been the state of democracy and rule of law in Poland.

The protesting opposition parties say they are fighting a creeping authoritarianism by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the populist ruling Law and Justice party and the country's de facto leader. Those concerns are shared by the European Union, which has expressed its concerns about the rule of law under Law and Justice.

Kaczynski, however, insists that Poland's democracy is in good shape and has accused the opposition of violating democratic norms by blocking the speaker's podium in parliament for nearly a month. He and his party allies insist that they have the support of voters for deep changes they are bringing to the country and accuse the opposition of refusing to accept the election results.

Kaczynski expressed his satisfaction that the protest was over but said he wants to see new regulations imposed that would prevent such standoffs in the future.

Immediately after the blockade ended, the parliament speaker, Marek Kuchcinski, called for a recess, with parliament to reconvene on Jan. 25.