Poland’s President Duda signals Tusk will have bumpy ride as PM

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WARSAW — A war of words has broken out between Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Donald Tusk, the likely head of the next government, presaging what’s looking to be a difficult cohabitation between the political rivals.

“I am the president, but Donald Tusk is not my candidate for prime minister,” Duda told the right-wing Sieci weekly.

Duda, originally a European Parliament backbencher from the Law and Justice (PiS) party before becoming president in 2015, has long been loyal to the nationalist party.

Rather than simply rolling over and allowing Tusk to set Poland on a new course in line with the EU mainstream, Duda is laying down a gauntlet that he will use his presidential powers to thwart a new administration.

Tusk and his allies have promised wrenching changes to the PiS program — rolling back draconian restrictions on abortion, limiting the role of religion in the education system, firing PiS loyalists in media and state companies, and undoing years of judicial reforms that were aimed at bringing judges under tighter political control but which ignited a battle with the EU that saw Brussels punish Warsaw by withholding billions in EU funds over rule of law concerns.

The problem for Tusk is that many of those changes require new laws, and Duda wields a presidential veto that will be very difficult to overcome.

“I have used the veto more than once. I will not hesitate to do so again,” Duda told the weekly.

After the October 15 election, where a coalition of opposition parties won a parliamentary majority, Duda still chose outgoing PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to take the first try at forming a government. It’s an effort that’s almost certain to fail over the next three weeks, as Law and Justice has only 194 seats in the 460-member parliament, and has been shot down as a partner by other parties.

Duda went on to say that the coalition deal between Tusk’s centrist Civic Coalition, the center-right Third Way and the Left “did not convince me that it is worth giving up the good parliamentary tradition, according to which the winning party or coalition is the first to receive the mandate to form a government.”

He also hammered the opposition parties for not presenting him with a convincing program.

Tusk, who served as PM from 2007 to 2014 before shifting to Brussels to be European Council president, slapped back at Duda.

“President Duda said: ‘Tusk won’t be my prime minister.’ I confirm that. I won’t be,” Tusk tweeted.

Polish President Andrzej Duda | Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The tit-for-tat spat doesn’t bode well for the future.

Tusk and his coalition are likely to take power next month, once Morawiecki tries and fails to win a parliamentary vote of confidence.

However, Duda’s second and final term as president ends in 2025, so he’ll have to rub along with a Tusk-led administration for two years.

“Throughout his life and political experience, President Andrzej Duda shows that he is on a completely different side of the political scene than Donald Tusk,” Michał Dworczyk, a PiS minister, told Polish television.

The proposed coalition headed by Tusk has 248 seats in the lower house of parliament, a solid majority but far from the 276 votes needed to override any veto from Duda.

The president is already sending up warning flares.

In a speech to parliament a week ago, Duda defended the record of the outgoing PiS government and issued a threat to veto legislation that he feels might undo the party’s flagship achievements like expanded social welfare payments or any attempts to “limit, undermine or question the constitutional powers of the president.”


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He also warned the new government about its desire for “revenge” against PiS after its eight years in power.

The coalition agreement pledges to investigate and prosecute anyone responsible for breaking the law, misspending public funds or violating the constitution.

Before the election, Civic Coalition said it would haul Duda before the State Tribunal, a special body that tries senior officials, for appointing improperly nominated judges in a bid to support PiS’s judicial reforms.

“Violations of the constitution and the rule of law will be swiftly called to account and judged,” said its 100-point electoral program.