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POLAND: President moves on Constitutional Referendum

Last week, during celebrations of Poland’s Constitution Day, President Andrzej Duda said he would motion the Senate to call a referendum in November. Duda would like to consult citizens on whether to make changes to the current constitution. The President also provided the 10th and 11th of November as the dates for the vote – to coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining independence. The opposition has already criticized this choice for using state-wide celebrations for political purposes. Notably, the date selection and the idea itself does not have the full support within the ruling PiS party.

Duda has been promising a debate on constitutional changes since his election campaign. He long-argued that the public believes the current basic law requires amendments. Key issues which have been raised in the last months include: conflicts between domestic and EU legislation, healthcare, social security, education, and the protection of disabled persons. The move is a risk for Duda ahead of the 2020 presidential elections. The public perception of whether this initiative was a success is likely to be one of the decisive factors for his potential re-election.

Still, several challenges have to be overcome before the referendum. The State Electoral Committee has already stated that nearly 200 million PLN is missing from its budget for the organization of such a vote. Convincing Poles to take part will also be a problem – a previous presidential referendum organised by former President Komorowski attracted only 8% of eligible voters. The process of selecting appropriate questions will also be the source of much debate and frictions within the ruling camp. The referendum is bound to be a centerpiece in the relations between the government and the President’s office. It remains to be seen whether it will be used as a bargaining card or an excuse for open conflict.