On February 1st, the Polish government rejected a COVID regulation bill proposed by Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS) leadership. The vote at the Sejm, Poland’s lower house of parliament, ended with a majority voting against the bill, 253 to 152. But more striking were the results within the PiS itself. The proposal was rejected by 77 MPs: 24 in open opposition, 37 abstaining, 16 not voting. It was a crushing defeat, judged impossible to pass due to its unreasonable requirements and disjunction with reality.
The bill was inspired after the party of Jarosław Kaczyński endured much criticism for its lax COVID measures in the recent past. The bill would have, among other measures, allowed employers to demand a negative test result once a week from their employees.
One of the more controversial aspects of the proposed law, according to TVN24, would have allowed infected employees to seek compensation from untested colleagues. “If someone does not exercise the right to self-test, they will have to pay a fine for possibly having infected someone, but they don’t know if they infected someone,” said Andrzej Sośnierz of the Polskie Sprawy (Polish Affairs) opposition party. Borys Budka, chairman of the Koalicja Obywatelska (Civic Coalition), complained that this law would put the burden of the fight against the pandemic onto the people. “It is not a fight in hospitals, not for vaccinations, but a fight in courtrooms for compensation,” said Budka according to Business Insider Poland.
Meanwhile, his fellow member of the Civic Coalition, Katarzyna Lubnauer, called the proposed law “absurd” for suggesting “that the only place we can get infected is work” and criticized the “bizarre attempt to replace a vaccination program with a public reporting program.”
The proposed law was developed after a meeting with the opposition a week earlier during which, according to Tomasz Latos, member of the PiS and chairman of the parliamentary health committee, “it was clear that there would be no majority for this bill.” In an interview with Polska Times, Latos criticized the opposition for having a “lack of any idea of their own” except “to block” suggestions by the left, “who wanted to make vaccinations compulsory for everyone.”
Opponents of the mandate from the other end of the spectrum, however, celebrated the result for different reasons. Janusz Kowalski of the Solidarna Polska (United Poland) took to Twitter: “No to the leftist sanitary policy that is bankrupting Europe! No to discrimination! Yes to improving the health services! Let’s support Poles and fight for their freedom.”
Opposition leaders and commentators were quick to consider this an important loss for Kaczyński and the PiS. Borys Budka demanded that “if the government does not have a majority in a matter of key importance to Poles, it should resign,” and the political scientist Marek Migalski considered the lost vote a “spectacular turning point” and an indicator that Kaczyński is “preparing for early elections.” According to Migalski, “the end of PiS has been announced many times in the last six years,” but he is confident that “this is really the beginning of their end.”
An assessment, not necessarily shared throughout the opposition, came from Robert Kwiatkowski of the Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist Party), who insinuated, to TVN24, “sabotage” of this bill from within the PiS. “The authorities do not want this law,” Kwiatkowski speculated, “they want an excuse to say it is impossible, we wanted it, but the opposition prevented us from carrying out these ideas.”
Asked about potential problems with dissent within the PiS, Tomasz Latos demonstrated unity when he told the Polska Times that dissent over COVID measures were not a problem unique to Poland: “[not only in our country] there are people who are skeptical about restrictions, vaccinations, testing, or anything related to the pandemic.” For him “this is basically the only problematic point.”
Poland has a relatively low vaccination rate of 57.5% fully vaccinated citizens. Supporters of the PiS, especially those in the rural east and south of Poland, are vehemently opposed to vaccination policies, resulting in the implementation of relatively liberal COVID regulations by the PiS in comparison to many other European countries. As a result, opposition parties have criticized the PiS for not doing enough to combat the pandemic.