Poland will not begin Russian influence probe before election, lawmaker says

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will not set up a commission to investigate undue Russian influence in the country before it holds elections on Oct. 15, a ruling party lawmaker said on Friday, appearing to set aside for now a project that critics feared could become a witch hunt.

The ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party says it wants to form the commission to examine the influence of Russian agents in Poland. The opposition say PiS wants to root out its political opponents.

In particular, critics have accused the government of planning to use the commission to eliminate the leader of the largest opposition party – former European Council President Donald Tusk – from the political scene.

After the law to create the commission drew criticism from lawyers, the United States and the European Commission for effectively banning individuals from holding public office without judicial review, President Andrzej Duda proposed amendments to quell the concerns.

A watered-down version of the legislation was then passed by parliament in June.

On Friday, PiS lawmaker Marek Ast said the delay this had created meant it would not be possible to form the commission before the current parliamentary term ends.

“The time for the appointment of the commission was shortened a lot… it will probably remain a task for parliament in the next term to implement this law and appoint a commission,” Ast told state-run news agency PAP.

In June, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the capital Warsaw on the anniversary of Poland’s first postwar democratic election. Many observers said that anger about the Russian influence law had galvanised opposition supporters.

With the issue of the commission looking to have been set aside for now, attention has shifted to a referendum which the government has decided to hold on election day in what some analysts say is a bid to mobilise its base.

PiS say the referendum aims to make sure the will of the people is respected on four issues: the privatisation of state companies, raising the retirement age, a fence on the Belarus border, and accepting migrants under a European Union deal.

However, the opposition says PiS is misusing public funds for a campaign exercise designed to energise its supporters and demonise opponents with a series of loaded questions.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Hugh Lawson)