Polish opposition celebrates taking control of Senate

WARSAW, POLAND (AP) — Poland’s opposition parties elected their candidate as Speaker of the Senate on Tuesday, a small victory that allows them to check the power of the populist right-wing ruling party.

Senator Tomasz Grodzki was chosen Speaker in a 51-48 vote with one abstention during the first sitting of the new Parliament that was elected in October. Grodzki hailed the move as a victory for democracy.

Until Tuesday’s vote, it was not certain that the opposition parties would manage to take control of the Senate.

For the past four years, the ruling Law and Justice party has put through laws giving it much greater power over the judicial system.

The European Union (EU) has often expressed its concerns that the party was eroding judicial independence, warning that rule of law in the young democracy was on the line.

In many cases, with control of both Houses of Parliament, the party would rush laws through without allowing opposition lawmakers any say.

Now, the Senate will be able to slow down and influence, though not block, the passage of laws.

Perhaps more importantly, the Senate has the power to appoint the heads of some key state bodies and the opposition — if it maintains its majority — will be able to block the nominations of some ruling party loyalists.

Law and Justice has tried to win over some opposition members in Senate, but has so far failed.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Lower House of Parliament, also named its Speaker — Elzbieta Witek of Law and Justice.

President Andrzej Duda opened the first day of Parliament’s four-year term with a speech that paid homage to Poland’s tradition of being a land of tolerance and a place where many ethnic and religious groups lived for centuries in relative harmony.

Leader of Poland’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party Jaroslaw Kaczynski swears in as a Member of Parliament during a gala inauguration of a new four-year term of the National Parliament in Warsaw, Poland. PHOTO: AP