Ombudsman appointment hailed by ruling party, opposition politicians

Wednesday's Senate vote ends the five-month-long saga over who should be the next ombudsman. Marcin Obara/PAP

Politicians from both the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party and the main opposition grouping have welcomed the appointment of a new ombudsman after five months of political bickering over who should have the job.

The appointment of Professor Marcin Wiącek, an expert in constitutional law, was approved by the Senate, Poland's upper house, on Wednesday. He replaces the retiring Adam Bodnar, who has been a vocal critic of the government.

PiS Senator Maria Koc told journalists that Professor Wiącek had used a moderate tone and one that had not created controversy while speaking in the Senate.

She added that this suggested that as ombudsman he would focus on defending the rights of citizens and providing them with legal assistance while not getting involved in political warfare.

"I considered the politicisation of the office of ombudsman, which took place under Adam Bodnar, as very harmful and unnecessary, and I hope that this will not be the case now."

She added that she hoped Wiącek would run the office in a "firm, substantive, competent manner, without any unnecessary political battles."

Senator Bogdan Klich, from the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), the main opposition group said, while he had voted for Wiacek, his work would need to be closely monitored and that he would have to be held accountable for his actions.

Klich also noted that the new ombudsman had made a very important declaration by saying that he would come forward with "initiatives that would systematically change the law so that it could be adapted to the constitution and to those principles that guarantee civil liberties and rights."

Meanwhile, Professor Wiącek pledged that he "will assist all citizens who feel that that their freedoms or rights are being violated, regardless of the circumstances."

He also announced that his first order of business would be to meet the Police Commissioner in order to "increase the sensitivity of police officers who come into contact with those people who have been detained."

"I would like to prepare a report on the problems exposed by the coronavirus pandemic," he continued.

"I would also like to meet social organisations that deal with the protection of the rights of those who are the most marginalised and excluded, people with disabilities, the elderly, people affected by the homeless crisis, and to create a list of problems that I could help solve through the assistance of my colleagues," he added.

Wednesday's Senate vote ends the five-month-long saga over who should be the next ombudsman. All the previous candidates were opposed by the opposition on the grounds that they were too closely associated with PiS.

On April 15, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled that Bodnar could no longer continue in his position because his five-year term had ended at the beginning of September last year.