Instability After Election: Serial Resignations in the Polish Cabinet
by Boran GÖHER
Amidst heavy criticism over its recent steps in handling the COVID-19 crisis, the polish cabinet saw two of its members resigning back to back in a shocking turn of events. Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski notified the public of his resignation this Tuesday, on the 18th of August, only two days later, the Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz joined him in the Polish Cabinet Resignees Club. It is worth noting that these resignations came ahead of an expected major cabinet reshuffle, yet they are still quite baffling.
In the case of Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski, the high quality of the original response put him in a favorable spot, but the recent shortcomings of the government in regard to the coronavirus had made him a target of criticism. Most recently, some medical equipment provided by the government had been reported to be highly inadequate. Allegedly, Szumowski’s brother had ties to the company which manufactured these batches of equipment, placing him under suspicion of corruption. Szumowski himself has stated that his resignation had long been in the works and unrelated to recent allegations.(1)
However, neither the allegations of corruption nor the malfunctioning equipment were the biggest reasons for Szumowski’s recent run of unpopularity. Instead, he was most scrutinized for the resurgence of novel coronavirus cases across Poland. The government’s adequate first reply to the pandemic had set Poland on a positive path, but the encouraging numbers started to reverse around the middle of summer and Polish people have not been so optimistic regarding the pandemic after that. The below graph clearly demonstrates the recent shortcomings of the Polish response.
On the other side of the coin, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz was the lead figure in Poland’s response to the controversial Belarussian elections up until his resignation. Poland held the stance that the elections could not be considered free or democratic, and thus, were illegitimate, much like the rest of the European Union. In Poland, the local Belarussians were permitted to protest the elections, and the government was supportive of protesters in Belarus as well. President Lukashenko has spoken of these actions as attempts to meddle with the internal affairs of Belarus and mobilized the army towards the Polish border. Poland remained steadfast however, requesting economic action from the EU and all-around positioning itself as a leader of the response. Yet despite being in a time where he is needed the most, the Foreign Affairs Minister has resigned. One might think that this might be the signal of change in foreign policy, but there have not been any statements of that nature. Czaputowicz has even stated that he is hoping for a successor that would “maintain the current line and support the strengthening of Poland's position on the international stage.”(2)
In the end, it seems that Czaputowicz’s resignation was most closely related to the cabinet reshuffle, rather than a problem in foreign policy. This does not mean, however, that we can say the instability in the cabinet is simply a political situation unrelated to the actual issues of Poland. Following the elections in early June, where Andrzej Duda was reelected, a number of internal problems took place in a short period, such as the aforementioned resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
Following the reelection of Duda, several openly LGBT+ people have left the country, citing Duda’s anti-LGBT rhetoric as a reason, saying that they no longer felt safe in Poland and were uneasy about their futures if they stayed.(3) Poland received the scorn of the EU with its anti-LGBT stance as well. The European Union cut funding to some parts of Poland which positioned themselves as “LGBT-free zones” and condemned the persecution of LGBT people under Poland’s ambiguous blasphemy law.
In a similar vein, the legitimacy of the Istanbul Convention was brought into question by the Duda administration, stating that the convention was contrary to “sacred traditions” and “catholic family values”. This discourse brought about protests by supporters of the convention, mainly centered in Warsaw. The striking resemblance of this proceeding of events regarding the convention to the events of the same topic in Turkey has been noted in international media as well.
Concluding, we must note that Duda’s conservative views were the reason for some of the internal turmoil in the country. Add the resurgence of the virus and aggressive foreign policy on top of that, and it is not hard to see why political instability might exist in Poland. So far, the Duda administration has planned to remedy this with a cabinet reshuffle to boost trust in the government. Yet, it is entirely possible that it might not work. For now, we can only say that time will tell if Poland will be able to construct a more stable cabinet leading a more peaceful country.