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Poland's Kaczynski could join government as coalition teeters

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski may take over supervision of the powerful justice ministry, officials said on Thursday, as PiS and its allies in government hold talks to avert a breakdown of their three-party coalition.

FILE PHOTO: Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski applauds during first sitting of Poland's lower house of parliament in Warsaw, Poland November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

The move could herald some softening of the government rhetoric over Poland’s opposition to gay rights and on relations with Brussels, issues at the heart of the internal rivalries and disagreements among the country’s ruling conservatives.

If the emergency talks fail it could force PiS to govern as a minority administration or even trigger an early election.

At the centre of the dispute is Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, 50, who heads a small, ultra-conservative coalition grouping and wants Warsaw to take a more combative stance on issues such as women’s and gay rights and judicial reform.

Kaczynski’s nationalist PiS, however, argues Poland should be more pragmatic about its relationship with the European Union, already tense over European Commission criticism that Warsaw is subverting democratic norms.

“It would seem Kaczynski is entering the government and will oversee the justice ministry,” Ryszard Terlecki, a senior PiS lawmaker, told reporters.

While he is said to prefer working from behind the scenes without holding any executive posts, Kaczynski, 71, is seen as the final arbiter on policy in Poland. Sources say Ziobro and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a relative newcomer to PiS, are jostling for position to succeed him in the coming years.

It was not immediately clear how Kaczynski taking over the supervision of the justice ministry could affect the party’s ambitions to deepen court reforms, which Brussels says politicise the judiciary and weaken democratic checks and balances.

Uncertainty about the outcome of coalition talks has been an additional factor weakening the Polish zloty, adding to investors’ worries as they fret about the health of a global economy which is facing rising numbers of coronavirus cases.

The zloty broke through the psychologically important barrier of 4.50 against the euro earlier this week.

If a snap election were held now, opinion polls show PiS would fall short of a majority and its two smaller coalition partners would fail to meet the threshold to win seats.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Alex Richardson

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