Opposition split on how to organise sitting of Parliament

The Lower House is scheduled to sit on Friday to discuss the government’s proposals to shield the economy from the effects of the Coronavirus emergency. In order to stay in line with government recommendations on social distancing and distance working, Speaker Elżbieta Witek announced on Tuesday that the sitting would take place with most of the MPs participating and voting online.

Parliament mobilising for a sitting on Friday

The final decision on the date and way of organising the next session of the Lower House is likely on Tuesday.

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The Polish People’s Party (PSL) and the “Left” parliamentary caucus have offered support for such a development and may support the required change in standing orders. Opposed is the largest opposition Civic Platform (PO) and the radical right Confederation.

According to the Speaker’s proposal, only designated representatives of all the parliamentary groups will be physically present in the chamber of the Lower House. The rest of the MPs will participate and vote online.

The leader of the PO Borys Budka has criticised the decision as unconstitutional and a breach of standing orders. He argued that parliamentarians should have to come to work, as do many other Poles and that such extraordinary measures are inappropriate when the government has refused to declare a state of emergency.

The PO and other opposition parties have called for a state of emergency to be declared so that the presidential election scheduled for 10 May, does not go ahead. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) believe such a decision would be premature at this stage. They feel that the government has enough powers delegated through other legislation to deal with the epidemic.

Confederation’s presidential candidate Krzysztof Bosak criticised the Speaker’s decision as a breach of standing orders and the constitution. He argued on social media that the sitting could be conducted away from the parliamentary building at a larger covered venue, such as the National Stadium in Warsaw.

Some MPs have also argued that the change in standing orders could allow the ruling party to hold regular Parliamentary meetings on a distance basis. This, the opposition feels will place it at a disadvantage.

The Polish constitution stipulates that Parliament must have half of its members present at any session to be quorate. Most constitutionalists interpret this as physically present.