Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS) has suffered a drop in support after a scandal erupted involving officials from the justice ministry allegedly orchestrating a online smear campaign against critics of the government’s judicial reforms.
A poll conducted on August 22 showed PiS with 39% support, down from 44% in the last poll held on August 13, while the main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), were on 30%, up 3 points since mid-August, according to TVN 24.
The dip in support follows the publication of transcripts purporting to show former Deputy Minister of Justice Łukasz Piebiak and a woman called “Emilia” discussing plans to circulate rumours about judges including Krystian Markiewicz, a district judge and head of the Association of Polish Judges.
In one of the transcripts, published by the Polish news website Onet, Piebiak, speaking about the smear campaign, is alleged to have told Emillia:
“I think it will help. It is important that it sweeps through Iustitia (the association of Polish judges) to let them know who we are dealing with. People will spread it, and Markiewicz will fade away, knowing what we have on him.”
Piebek, who denies the accusations, resigned from his post last week, and promised to fight the charges.
“I am bringing a lawsuit against the Onet Editorial Board, which is spreading slander about me based on the accounts of an unbelievable person,” he wrote in a statement, adding that he was the victim of a hate campaign “inspired by opponents of changes in the judiciary.”
“It is no coincidence that lies appear immediately before the parliamentary elections. They are to strike not at me, but at reforms. They are a tool of political struggle,” Piebiak said.
The accusations arrive weeks before the Polish general elections, which will take place on October 13, and in which the Nationalist-Conservative Law and Justice (PiS), hopes to maintain power.
Emilia, whose internet activity shows a history of launching virulent attacks against judges, and was apparently remunerated for doing so, apologised to those she targeted, saying she had been used by a “propaganda machine” and led to believe she was acting in Poland’s best interests.
The judges of the independent Iustitia association have demanded that Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro also resign over the scandal.
“We want the matter clarified to the core and we want all those responsible to bear the consequences,” the judges said.
Opposition politicians are also demanding Ziobro’s resignation, suggesting he must have been aware of the hate campaign.
Government spokesman Piotr Muller reacted by saying there are no plans for Ziobro to be fired.
Since the victory of PiS in the 2015 elections, the Polish government has launched a series of controversial reforms of the judicial system, including the reform of the Constitutional Court and the system for electing the highest magistrates, which has caused a wave of criticism within the Polish judiciary.
The EU has also been very critical of the justice reforms which they say undermine the rule of law and the democratic principle of the separation of powers.