Today's award goes to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party! (But dishonorable mention to Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, who seems to have inspired him.)
Poland’s government is putting the courts under its control
The Economist wrote:Since taking power in 2015, PiS has set about dismantling the country’s checks and balances. It has reduced the public broadcaster to a propaganda organ, packed the civil service with loyalists and purged much of the army’s leadership. It has undermined the independence of the judiciary by stacking the Constitutional Tribunal with its cronies. In response, the European Commission warned Poland’s government last year that such changes pose “a systemic risk to the rule of law”.
On July 12th PiS stepped up its effort to subjugate the legal system to politicians’ control with two new laws. Members of the National Judicial Council, the body that chooses judges, will henceforth be selected by parliament instead of by other judges. The minister of justice can now appoint and dismiss the heads of lower courts. A third bill, if signed into law, would allow the minister to sack every member of the Supreme Court. Among other responsibilities, that court rules on the validity of elections.
Critics believe PiS simply wants to stuff them with judges who will rubber-stamp its policies. From now on, judges will owe their careers to the governing party. “It’s shockingly brazen,” says Kim Lane Scheppele, a sociologist at Princeton University who has analysed similar changes in Hungary.
Polls show that 76% of Poles oppose a politicised judiciary, as the protests in Warsaw and other cities attested. The front page of Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, a daily, pictured Mr Kaczynski and two shadows; the title read: “The three branches of government”.
The European Commission dutifully expressed concern over the new laws. There is some talk of imposing sanctions on Poland. But Mr Kaczynski has drawn lessons from Hungary, where Viktor Orban, the autocratic prime minister, has rewritten the constitution and tightened the screws on civil society with little trouble from the European Union. “Kaczynski has learned from Orban that if you change facts on the ground, the commission can’t get its head around it in time,” says Ms Scheppele. The EU has launched infringement procedures against Hungary, but the most serious sanctions, contained in Article 7 of the EU treaty, require a unanimous vote in the European Council. Poland would probably veto any effort to invoke them against Hungary, and vice versa.
Yet unlike Hungary, where Mr Orban’s party enjoys a crushing majority, Poland is politically divided. PiS won just 37.5% of the vote in 2015. Civil society remains strong, and the government responds to public pressure: last year it backed down from a strict abortion law when faced with massive protests. The independence of Poland’s judiciary may depend on how strongly Poles want to keep it.
Congratulations, Kaczynski and Orban! You two seem far more likely to stay in power than Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whose unofficial referendum on rewriting the Venezuelan constitution didn't go his way this week, fueling the current general strike against his government:
Venezuela opposition calls for ‘zero hour’ action against Maduro’s plan
Escalated street protests and 24-hour strike organized in weeks leading up to election of assembly to rewrite constitution after 7.1m people rejected proposal