Warsaw, Poland – Hit by a scandal regarding his frequent use of government planes, the speaker of the Polish Parliament and senior member of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party Marek Kuchciński announced his resignation on Thursday at the party’s headquarters.
M. Kuchciński (pictured above) had been at the center of a growing political scandal after it was revealed that he had taken more than 100 flights on a government jet, mainly to go back and forth between Warsaw and his hometown of Rzeszów, some 280 km south, and often accompanied by family members, friends or other public officials.
Although he repeatedly insisted that he never broke the law and defended himself earlier this week, apologizing to “anyone who felt offended”, the controversy, quickly nicknamed ‘Air Kuchciński’, escalated during the week after further revelations that Kuchciński was also accompanied by other senior ruling party politicians and their wives during some of the trips.
Most analysts and journalists further claim that the list of flights he released is incomplete.
In order to head off the scandal that could prove extremely detrimental ahead of the October national elections, PiS chairman and Poland’s de-facto ruler Jaroslaw Kaczynski decided to pull the plug on the Parliament speaker.
M. Kuchciński only said he decided to quit from his position “because public opinion evaluates my conduct in a negative way”.
As Politico points out, “while PiS had dealt with many scandals during its more than three years in power, the others haven’t done much to dent the party’s popularity. But the image of a senior politician jetting around the country at taxpayers’ expense in potentially much more damaging”, especially for a party that has made the fight against corruption and a disconnected political elite one of its key trademark slogans.
Even in the aftermath of Kuchciński’s resignation, party chief Kaczynski, who stood alongside him while he announced his decision, stuck to the script: insisting the lower house speaker hadn’t broken any law, he said that “because you think otherwise, I have to say that the decision of the speaker is proof of our slogan: ‘We listen to Poles'”.
Although public prosecutors have started to look into Marek Kuchciński’s trips, the ruling party tried to bring the focus back to the opposition Civic Platform party, releasing the list of over 280 flights taken by Donald Tusk, who often flew between Warsaw and his hometown of Gdansk during his 6-year tenure as Prime Minister.