Defeat on virus law shows rifts in Poland’s ruling coalition

Feb 2, 2022, 6:27 AM | Updated: 11:39 am

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The defeat of a proposed COVID-19 law in Poland’s parliament over free testing for employees has exposed deep divisions inside the ruling right-wing coalition and the waning influence of the country’s most powerful politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, analysts said Wednesday.

Some 61 lawmakers of the United Right ruling team led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party abstained or voted against the law in the 460-seat lower house late Tuesday. Another 15 of the ruling coalition’s 228 lawmakers didn’t even show up. Analysts said the result marked an unprecedented degree of dissent within the ruling coalition and poses a challenge to Kaczynski’s leadership.

The vote indicates that “the United Right does not exist as such any more,” political analyst Barbara Brodzinska-Mirowska from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun told private TVN24. “The rifts are really deep and the games and interests are very much advanced, and things will not get better.”

It also shows the “political weakness of Jaroslaw Kaczynski,” who pushed for the law’s adoption. The outcome will have “quite big consequences on the work of the parliament and on our political life,” Brodzinska-Mirowska said.

The widely criticized draft law would mandate free, regular COVID-19 testing of employees and enable those who believe they got infected in the workplace to seek compensation from colleagues who refused testing.

Poland is facing a record surge of new infections driven by the omicron variant but only 57% of its population is fully vaccinated, much lower than the European Union average of 70%. A nation of 38 million people, Poland reported more than 56,000 new infections Wednesday.

The opposition Civic Platform party leader, Borys Budka, said on Twitter that the vote was Kaczynski’s “spectacular defeat.”

“It seems that the message reaching the voters will be that the chaos inside the ruling camp is growing and it’s not certain if anyone is in control of it,” commentator Kamil Dziubka wrote on the Onet.pl portal.

Kaczynski and his party blamed the opposition for the draft law’s defeat, saying that they had prevented proper, wide-ranging debate on how Poland should shape its COVID-19 response.

“I completely don’t understand the opposition, which is calling for ‘something to be done’ (about the pandemic) and votes from just some of them would have sufficed to push the law — maybe with their amendments — through. We were open to discussion,” Kaczynski said.

But he also said he does “not understand … the great determination of the group that questions the need for vaccinations and restrictions” inside the ruling coalition.

The draft law’s defeat comes at a time when the ruling coalition is losing popular backing amid surging prices on staple goods, much-criticized tax reform, revelations of surveillance by spyware of government critics, and regional tensions.

Poland now requires people to wear masks in indoor public spaces, limits hotels, eateries and theaters to 50% capacity and still is holding remote learning in primary and middle schools.

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Defeat on virus law shows rifts in Poland’s ruling coalition