Poles, don’t worry, it’s alright. After all, we are electing the Ombudsperson for you

On 9 September 2020, Poland’s Human Rights Ombudsman Adam Bodnar’s term of office came to an end. The Republic of Poland, if it had a responsible government, should have prepared itself for this by 10 August 2020 at the latest. Unfortunately, the only group to start preparations were the citizens themselves, who submitted a civic candidate thanks to the support from opposition parties.

However, we encountered an asymmetry of power. We, the citizens, may receive as much attention as the elected majority wish to give us. And they only reluctantly appointed the dates of subsequent meetings of the Committee of Justice and Human Rights in the Sejm and voting in the Sejm. Usually, the matter of the Ombudsperson’s election was called as the last vote, in the middle of the night. Remaining silent with regard to the civic candidate, not paying any attention to her, rejecting her candidature several times. The dates of subsequent notifications of candidates were adapted to the current political needs – one time it was several days, and then three weeks. And this is how 2020 came to an end. We have written about this in detail in the article entitled Third submission of Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz for the Ombudsperson.

A revival came at the beginning of 2021. But not an acceleration. Now we are nearly in mid-April, and the Ombudsman still has not been elected. And nothing indicates that this time the election will be successful because no one in the governing majority wants it, which has been demonstrated by the 8-month stalemate. Law and Justice are not looking for a candidate who could realistically deal with the citizens’ issues, they do not want a compromise, and they continue submitting unacceptable candidates – active politicians with charges of plagiarism, fully dependent, or even independent but feeling like a slap in the face to half of the society. There is no sign that they are acting for the state and its institutions.

Hearing of the candidates and the case before the Constitutional Court

On 12 April 2021, we will be able to hear the candidates for the Ombudsperson’s office in the Sejm. They will present themselves to the Sejm Committee of Justice and Human Rights and we will watch another spectacle in which the actors will play their roles, and we will pay for this as taxpayers. We are to be convinced that someone is dealing with the election of the Ombudsman. Because around 2 pm [this text is being written several hours before the session of the Constitutional Court – author’s note], we will probably be deprived of an Ombudsperson. Why? The Law and Justice MPs, not having proposed their own candidate for the Ombudsperson and having ignored the civic candidate, decided to completely deprive citizens of the Ombudsman and in September 2020 they submitted a motion to the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of those provisions of the Act on the Ombudsman which concern the continuity of the Ombudsman’s function. These provisions state that if the Sejm fails to effectively select a new Ombudsperson, the one that had been democratically elected remains in office. 

The continuity of functioning of the state authorities constitutes a valid guarantee. But today there are no guarantees or rules that cannot be negated in the Constitutional Court, which is dependent on the governing majority. The matter of the motion concerning the Ombudsperson shows that procedures can be ignored. First, the stability of the institution of the Ombudsperson was toyed with, with the Constitutional Court’s hearing of this case being postponed repeatedly – the hearing was deferred in the evening of the previous day, and the last one just several hours before it was scheduled to take place. Of course, each time this physically and mentally destabilised the work carried out by the Ombudsman’s office and civil society’s efforts. And perhaps this was the intention. One of disabled people who wanted to support the Ombudsman found out about the deferment of the hearing when already on a train from Szczecin to Warsaw (over 500 km away). The adjudicating panel was also changed to suit immediate political needs. This is a novelty that was introduced for the hearing on 12 April 2021.

Poles, don’t worry

It is unlikely that the hearing on 12 April will be cancelled. The scenario of events that has been prepared is an indicator of this. The hearing will be held at 2 pm, and at 6 pm the Committee of Justice and Human Rights will issue opinions on the new candidates for the Ombudsman. As if everything was in order, the procedures were observed, and the Sejm had done its best to elect the Ombudsperson. It is worth remembering what had really happened.



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