Talks on Polish cabinet reshuffle halted amid tensions

Poland's governing conservative party on Thursday suspended talks with its two junior coalition partners on a planned cabinet reshuffle, threatening to call early elections as internal political tensions spilled into the open.

Ryszard Terlecki, the ruling Law and Justice party's leader in parliament, said the negotiations, meant to reduce the number of ministries to improve government efficiency, had halted after several days.

He spoke to reporters after a meeting led by the powerful governing party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski with party members. Terlecki called it an “extraordinary meeting” in which Kaczynski warned that “the consequence of possible insubordination could be serious.”

Poland's ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, center, during a police-guarded ceremony in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, July 10, 2020 remembering his twin brother, the late president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, killed in a plane crash in Russia in the year 2010. Friday was the last day of campaigning in Poland's presidential election runoff in which incumbent president, Andrzej Duda enjoys the right-wing ruling party's backing for a reelection, rivalling liberal Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski. Opinion polls suggest the election may be decided by a small number of votes. (AP PhotoCzarek Sokolowski)

The warning comes after two junior parties in the government coalition refused to back bills proposed by Law and Justice.

The deeper rift appears related to a struggle for power within the ruling camp as leading figures position themselves for a time when Kaczynski, 71, will no longer be the dominating force on the political right.

Polish media say there's strong rivalry between Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, leader of one of the small parties.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks during a news conference following joint meetings of the government of the Lithuania and the government of the Poland at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius, Lithuania, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. (AP PhotoMindaugas Kulbis)

“The existing coalition partners are presenting a different program, with different ideas, with different voting indications," Terlecki said.

He said the talks could resume “if our coalition partners temper their expectations.”

He said that if the government falls, Law and Justice was prepared to hold early elections without seeking an alliance with its partners.

Ziobro's party refused to give its support for a proposed bill that would have given immunity to officials who broke the law in fighting the coronavirus if they did so for the public good.

Such legislation could have offered some protection to Morawiecki over disputed steps he has taken.

Law and Justice was forced to withdraw it. It also faced dissent from its coalition partners over an animal rights bill that would have banned fur farms and the use of animals in shows and circuses.

That legislation, which was debated in parliament on Wednesday, was proposed by Kaczynski, who argued for animal welfare laws in line with Western European standards. It was sent to a committee for further work — a step that often leads to legislation being scrapped.

The reshuffle was expected sometime in the fall.