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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » September 24, 2008
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Friction in the Coalition
September 24, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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Prime Minister Donald Tusk has dismissed opposition claims that he is considering calling an early parliamentary election after a bitter row between politicians from the two ruling coalition parties.

Tusk has denied suggestions that the governing coalition grouping the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People's Party (PSL) is in crisis and has even publicly offered to take bets on it seeing out the parliament term, which ends in 2011.

"I don't think the PO-PSL coalition is in any danger of a serious political crisis despite our differences," Tusk said Sept. 15. Opposition Law and Justice (PiS) politicians have been repeatedly suggesting that PO is looking to call a snap election to take advantage of polls predicting it would win an outright majority were an election to be held in the next few months.

Adam Bielan, a PiS Euro-deputy and close ally of President Lech Kaczyński, said that Tusk and his party were aiming to jettison PSL as a troublesome coalition partner and then to secure a parliamentary majority strong enough to override any presidential veto of whatever draft legislation they proposed. Some polls indicate that PO would win such a majority were elections held today. PiS has claimed that PO is planning to call an early election in the spring of 2009 to coincide with the European Parliamentary elections.

Tusk, for his part, has accused the opposition of pursuing their own political ends by trying to convince people that the PO-PSL will not see out the current parliament. "Not every coalition in Poland has to self-destruct, however much its opponents keep their fingers crossed," he said. "I think the personal relationship between the deputy prime minister [PSL leader Waldemar Pawlak] and myself, and the objective public interest and the interests of both parties are reasons enough to be equanimous about this coalition continuing," he added.

Rumors about the wheels coming off the coalition were sparked by a skirmish that erupted between Julia Pitera, a PO deputy and a minister tasked with fighting corruption, and influential PSL deputy Eugeniusz Kłopotek Sept. 12, when Pitera accused Kłopotek of intervening "in the individual interests of a certain businessman."

Kłopotek hit back angrily, insisting that the accusations were unfounded and demanding an apology from Pitera for slandering him. "She's committed political suicide," he thundered at a special press conference, suggesting that the political consequences would be dire if an apology were not forthcoming. "We will start thinking about the coalition's future unless there's an appropriate response," he threatened.

The conflict arose over Kłopotek's intervention on behalf of a businessman who built a gas station in the town of Zielonka near Bydgoszcz in the north of the country. Kłopotek says the businessman built the station on the basis of a local zoning plan as well as plans for an expressway and had obtained all the necessary permits. However, the General Directorate of National Roads and Freeways amended its plans after the law to fast track the modernization of national roads came into effect, leaving the gas station cut off from the road. Kłopotek appealed to the minister of infrastructure and the local government administrator, but the decision was not changed.

Kłopotek has said that he will be presenting all the documentation related to helping the businessman to Pitera, Tusk, parliamentary Speaker Bronisław Komorowski and PO caucus head Zbigniew Chlebowski, adding that these will prove that he did not break the law. He wants Pawlak to "raise the issue of the activities of the minister for fighting corruption" at an upcoming meeting of coalition leaders, saying the credibility of the coalition has been weakened by unfounded accusations.

"Individual deputies do not decide the fate of the coalition," said deputy head of the PO caucus Grzegorz Dolniak. "It would be ridiculous if a quarrel between two deputies brought down the government of a country of 40 million people," echoed PSL caucus head Stanisław Żelichowski. Sławomir Nowak, who heads the prime minister's political office, insisted the coalition would be unaffected by the Kłopotek-Pitera clash.

Tusk said that Pitera sometimes "goes too far" with her public pronouncements but added this was partly because her portfolio requires her to carry out the difficult and delicate task of watching over government and opposition politicians. "I prefer to have a politician in my government who is, in a sense, a rod for all our backs, even if that person is oversensitive," Tusk said.
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