Analysis: battening down the hatches for the gathering storm

By Chris Mularczyk

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS)-United Right has finally completed a process of reshuffling the government and agreeing an agenda for the coming years. But the process was not painless, nor without casualties. In the end awareness of the consequences of a falling out in an environment of health, economic and international uncertainty led to a compromise being worked out.

The fact that Jarosław Kaczyński agreed to join the government as Deputy PM suggests that the ruling block is expecting turbulence. The internal conflict between PM Morawiecki and the Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro was too strong to be resolved without such an intervention. Moreover, the uncertainties over the pandemic, the impact it is going to finally have on the economy and the international situation in which Poland is in dispute with the EU and facing real security threats from the east imply the need for the most senior Polish political leader to step up to the plate, rather than remain in the background.

Mr Kaczyński’s nomination as the security supremo in the government, overseeing the ministries of defence, interior and justice, may suggest the ruling block feels that there may be a serious internal as well as an external threat to contend with in the not too distant future. The level of frustration of parts of the opposition may be such that this could flare up at any time.

PM Morawiecki suffers some setbacks

PM Morawiecki has suffered losses in this battle. He has lost Jadwiga Emilewicz, one of his favourite ministers whom he trusted with an important economic brief which she had fulfilled well. The leader of the Agreement party Jarosław Gowin who will replace her as Deputy PM and Development Ministry head is not as close to the PM as was Ms Emilewicz. Mr Morawiecki has also lost Marek Zagórski the Minister of Digital Affairs whose ministry was liquidated.

Mr Ziobro who had since the presidential campaign been campaigning for the ruling block to take a more Eurosceptic and socially conservative stance had to take a step back and accept he and his party cannot launch initiatives without the approval of the ruling block. He did so as he did not want to be blamed for the ruling block falling apart and early elections that he was not ready for.

However, he has confirmed that without him and his troops from the Solidarity Poland party he leads the ruling block does not have a majority. He demonstrated that by rebelling over both animal protection and immunity for state officials for their actions on the pandemic.

This is something PM Mateusz Morawiecki does not have. Law and Justice is under full control of Mr Kaczyński and loyal to the party leader and not the PM.

There is no alternative coalition available

PM Morawiecki had explored the possibility of a coalition with the Polish Coalition (KP), the parliamentary caucus dominated by the Polish People’s Party (PSL). The cc 30 MPs from that caucus could have replaced the 20 MPs Mr Ziobro has at his disposal.

The trouble was there were four problems with this scenario. First of all PiS and the PSL are mortal rivals for the rural vote. Second, the PSL’s demands to even consider a coalition were very hard to meet (they were rumoured to have demanded both the ministries of justice and agriculture).

Third, and probably most significant. It turned out that resistance to the idea was high within PiS ranks. So high that the party might be in danger of splitting. There are a number of MPs who would like to see the party pursue a more pragmatic course on the economy, cultural conservatism and in relations with the EU. But the majority of MPs are committed to both high social spending and cultural conservatism.

Finally, Mr Gowin and his Agreement party were not at all enthusiastic about becoming even more of a junior partner in the block, eclipsed by the PSL and its allies. If in the future they should ever seriously consider joining the PSL block they would want to do it on favourable terms.

The boss and the succession

Mr Kaczyński’s arrival in the Cabinet must mean some discomfort for the PM. Some ministers will be focused on pleasing the PiS leader and not the PM. His voice will count for more inside the government than will Mr Morawiecki.

The PiS leader is still committed to having Mr Morawiecki remain as a PM. He recognises the PM’s worth at executive and economic levels. He is grateful for Mr Morawiecki’s political loyalty and close cooperation. Mr Kaczyński has repeatedly signalled that Mr Morawiecki is his preferred choice as a future leader of PiS.

The problem is that successions are rarely automatic in politics. And Mr Morawiecki is, in relative terms, a “Johnny come lately” within PiS. When the party was in opposition the PM was making a fortune in the banking sector and even advising the liberal Civic Platform (PO) dominated government led by Donald Tusk.

The party elders and present deputies to Mr Kaczyński are not sympathisers of the PM. The former PM Beata Szydło and former defence minister Antoni Macierewicz both blame the PM for their demotions. The present Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak and Minister of the Interior Mariusz Kamiński owe their positions in the party and the government to Mr Kaczyński and not Mr Morawiecki. And Joachim Brudziński, a strong favourite with the PiS rank and file, is rumoured to have ambitions of his own as far as succession to Mr Kaczyński is concerned.

All eyes during the coming months will be fixed on how the relations between Mr Kaczyński and the PM pan out in the new configuration. An important signal may be sent at the party Congress scheduled for November. That was the date on which Mr Morawiecki was to have been promoted within the party to be one of its deputies to Mr Kaczyński. If this is put off until after the Congress with no definitive date in sight Mr Morawiecki’s future advancement within PiS may become blocked.

Disputes within the ruling United Right can now be resolved quicker by Mr Kaczyński being inside the government. Both Mr Ziobro and Mr Gowin will feel that they have become coalition partners and not just guests within PiS. This could stabilise the situation within the ruling block, but it is not a certainty. The divisions that have emerged over the past 12 months and more cannot be solved overnight.

Should there be another crisis within the ruling block the only answer would probably be for Mr Kaczyński to become the PM. And that would mean the effective end of PM Morawiecki’s ambition of leading PiS.

Mr Kaczyński is the founder and undisputed leader of PiS. As long as his health and will to rule are in place there will be very few who in PiS who would want him to stop leading the party into battle.