Analysis: war of nerves inside the ruling block

The Law and Justice (PiS) party, the core of the ruling block, is considering becoming a minority government following a serious dispute with its partners. Decisions are to be taken early in the new week.

“Solidarity Poland”, the party led by justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, opposed both the animal protection legislation and the draft law which was to give immunity for state officials for actions in support of combating the pandemic. Its 19 MPs all voted against the animal protection law. In response Law and Justice (PiS) have suspended talks about restructuring the government, the legislative programme and future election slates. Party representatives have also said that the coalition has ceased to function and that the government is now effectively a minority administration.

Pouring petrol on the flames

Responding to PiS Mr Ziobro’s party held a press conference which has poured petrol on the flames. “Solidarity Poland” spokesmen signalled that any attempt to dismiss the justice minister would lead to early elections which would be a present to the opposition. They also confirmed that they continue to oppose any immunity for malpractice of state officials during the pandemic as it would mean ministers were above the law. The party also refuted the charge that they are being disloyal, arguing that they have backed all of the PiS programme throughout their five years in office.

According to the PiS press spokesperson Anita Czerwińska MP “what happened in the Lower House was effectively an act of leaving the coalition”. She argued that in order for a coalition to be a community there must be common values. She felt that the failure to agree over humane treatment for animals showed that such common values did not exist. Another of its spokesmen Radosław Fogiel on Saturday argued that the coalition was effectively over because “it is not possible to have to negotiate over every single legislative draft. That is what happens when there is a minority government.”

The leader of the “Agreement” party Jarosław Gowin said that the country should not be subjected to fresh elections. Most of his party’s 18 MPs abstained in the vote over animal protection, with two voting against and the Deputy PM Jadwiga Emiewicz voting in favour. The party wants to see a longer grace period for fur farmers to close down their businesses and oppose a ban on ritual slaughter meat exports. But it is more amenable than Mr Ziobro’s party to deal with the issue of immunity for state officials over their actions during the pandemic.

However, “Agreement” was reported to have refused to sign a coalition deal with PiS that excluded Mr Ziobro’s party. They argued that without Mr Ziobro’s party the government would lose its thin majority in the Lower House of Parliament where the whole ruling block holds 235 out of 460 seats.

Second big falling out this year

This is the second crisis within the ruling block this year. The first came when Deputy PM Jarosław Gowin resigned from the government in protest over PiS insisting on holding the presidential election in May. The crisis was averted when PiS reluctantly backed down and the election was eventually held in late June.

This crisis may be more serious. It comes during protracted negotiations between PiS and its two smaller partners over downsizing the government, the legislative programme and the shape of future election slates of the ruling block. These negotiations had not been going well as the smaller parties resented having to give up one ministry each and disagreed over legislative priorities. They also wanted guarantees of future places on PiS electoral slates which Mr Kaczyński was most reluctant to give them, because such a guarantee was not available to his own party’s often disgruntled MPs.

The tension within the ruling block became clear over the summer when Mr Ziobro and his party launched their own political offensive to persuade PM Mateusz Morawiecki and PiS to agree a more radical agenda for this parliamentary term. They wanted the vetoing of the EU summit including rule of law compliance as a pre-condition of EU funding, Poland to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on domestic violence over its declaration that gender is a social and not biological phenomenon, a law creating a register of foreign funded NGOs and legislation that would force foreign media owners to sell most of their acquisitions to Polish entities.

PM Morawiecki and “Agreement” were not in favour of such an agenda. The PiS leader was prepared for some accommodation with parts of that agenda, but by no means all. The disagreements became public and began to give the impression of disunity in the ruling block.

Historical precedents not auspicious for minority governments

The ruling block will be weary of repeating the experience of the Solidarity Election Action coalition of the right that tore itself to pieces during the 1997-2001 parliamentary term and ended up with a massive election defeat to the left. The Left itself did not do well out of the fact that its coalition with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) collapsed during the 2001-2005 parliament. Nor will PiS forget how it lost an early parliamentary election in 2007 when its coalition with the radical right League of Polish Families (LPR) and the populist “Self-Defence” collapsed.

Voters tend to react badly to splits in parties and coalitions. It is fortunate for PiS that the election is still three years away. But it will want to ensure that the situation is resolved quickly and does not spiral out of control.

Minority governments can survive, aided and abetted by the constitution which envisages their removal by; a constructive vote of no confidence (ie. all of the opposition parties agreeing an alternative coalition and PM), by the Lower house voting by a two-thirds majority for self-dissolution or the President dissolving parliament if it fails to agree a budget (this is a discretionary presidential power, he is not obliged to dissolve parliament in the absence of a budget as the state can function on the basis of the government’s draft budget). In the 23 years since the constitution was agreed only once did we have early elections when both the ruling party and the main opposition parties agreed to dissolve parliament.

Looking for a resolution

The crisis can be resolved if both PiS and Mr Ziobro take a step back. But both Mr Kaczyński and Mr Ziobro are determined and convinced that they are right. PM Morawiecki, whom Mr Kaczyński backs, wants Mr Ziobro gone and Mr Ziobro in turn wants to see the back of Mr Morawiecki whom he sees as a rival for future leadership of the Polish right. Jarosław Gowin suggested on Friday that President Andrzej Duda could step in and act as a mediator. But the President will be reluctant to do that unless Mr Kaczyński and Mr Ziobro ask for his intervention. His relationship with Mr Ziobro is not good and he has had his disagreements with Mr Kaczyński too.

All hopes for a post-Historical precedents not auspicious for minority governments

The ruling block will be weary of repeating the experience of the Solidarity Election Action coalition of the right that tore itself to pieces during the 1997-2001 parliamentary term and ended up with a massive election defeat to the left. The Left itself did not do well out of the fact that its coalition with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) collapsed during the 2001-2005 parliament. Nor will PiS forget how it lost an early parliamentary election in 2007 when its coalition with the radical right League of Polish Families (LPR) and the populist “Self-Defence” collapsed.

Voters tend to react badly to splits in parties and coalitions. It is fortunate for PiS that the election is still three years away. But it will want to ensure that the situation is resolved quickly and does not spiral out of control.

Minority governments can survive, aided and abetted by the constitution which envisages their removal by; a constructive vote of no confidence (ie. all of the opposition parties agreeing an alternative coalition and PM), by the Lower house voting by a two-thirds majority for self-dissolution or the President dissolving parliament if it fails to agree a budget (this is a discretionary presidential power, he is not obliged to dissolve parliament in the absence of a budget as the state can function on the basis of the government’s draft budget). In the 23 years since the constitution was agreed only once did we have early elections when both the ruling party and the main opposition parties agreed to dissolve parliament.

Looking for a resolution

The crisis can be resolved if both PiS and Mr Ziobro take a step back. But both Mr Kaczyński and Mr Ziobro are determined and convinced that they are right. PM Morawiecki, whom Mr Kaczyński backs, wants Mr Ziobro gone and Mr Ziobro in turn wants to see the back of Mr Morawiecki whom he sees as a rival for future leadership of the Polish right. Jarosław Gowin suggested on Friday that President Andrzej Duda could step in and act as a mediator. But the President will be reluctant to do that unless Mr Kaczyński and Mr Ziobro ask for his intervention. His relationship with Mr Ziobro is not good and he has had his disagreements with Mr Kaczyński too.

All hopes for a post-election quiet period look to be over. In the absence of elections to concentrate minds both the ruling block and the opposition parties are involved in internal struggles over both leadership and identity.

election quiet period look to be over. In the absence of elections to concentrate minds both the ruling block and the opposition parties are involved in internal struggles over both leadership and identity.

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