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article imagePolish president scraps bid to amend constitution for judicial reform

By AFP     Sep 25, 2017 in Politics

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday abandoned his bid to amend the constitution to give himself more power over the judiciary, the latest twist to a reform campaign that has alarmed the EU and prompted mass protests.

Duda made the about-face just hours after proposing the amendment, when he learned during meetings with lawmakers that he would not have enough parliamentary backing for the move.

"There's no chance for this amendment to pass," Duda said in a televised statement, specifying that the main opposition parties Nowoczesna and Civic Platform (PO) had refused to back the proposal.

Duda had announced the amendment while unveiling his own version of new judicial legislation in place of government proposals he vetoed in July, to the surprise and dismay of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

One of the vetoed bills would have reinforced political control over the Supreme Court, while the other would have allowed parliament to choose members of a body designed to protect the independence of the courts.

In his own version, Duda proposed that a minimum of 60 percent of lawmakers would be required to choose members of the court watchdog KRS, so that no single party could dominate the selections.

If within two months the parliament were unable to achieve the three-fifths threshold, Duda proposed that the power then go to the president to choose the members from among candidates presented to parliament.

Having heard from both government and opposition lawmakers that giving the president such power would be unconstitutional, Duda proposed amending the constitution to make it possible.

But after scrapping the amendment because of a lack of support, Duda proposed an alternative solution.

"If (lawmakers) are unable to choose via three-fifths voting, then each lawmaker will then have only one vote. That means that every lawmaker will only be able to vote for a single KRS candidate," Duda said.

"This will result in a multi-party selection of KRS members," Duda added, as only around 30 votes would be needed to elect a KRS member.

Earlier Monday, Duda also presented his own version of the Supreme Court bill which would increase his powers by letting him decide which judges could remain on the bench past the retirement age of 65.

In his draft proposal, Duda also said ordinary citizens should be able to file complaints against court decisions.

These complaints would be heard by a new special chamber that would notably also include members of the public.

The attempt by Polish leaders to overhaul the judicial system has drawn concern from the European Commission, which on Monday was to assess whether there is backing among member states for unprecedented sanctions against the PiS government over the court reforms.

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