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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » June 29, 2015
Politics & Society
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Heads Roll in Government Shake-up
June 29, 2015   
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Three ministers, the lower house Speaker and a string of senior government officials unexpectedly resigned in Poland June 10 after documents from a probe into an eavesdropping scandal were leaked on the internet.

The shake-up came just four months before parliamentary elections, as the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party flounders in the opinion polls behind the conservative opposition. A few weeks earlier the PO, which has been in power for eight years, suffered a body blow when its candidate unexpectedly lost in May’s presidential election.

The string of resignations came on the heels of a leak in which 20 volumes of investigation files were illegally published on a social networking website. The investigation, conducted by the prosecutor’s office, is probing secret recordings of top PO politicians that shocked the public when the scandal first broke out in the summer of 2014.

“The PO cannot be solely weighed down by what has been going on around the tapes,” Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said at a special press conference June 10. “As long as I am prime minister, I will not allow for political games over the tapes during the election campaign period.”

Last summer the media published transcripts of conversations between PO ministers and other key party figures that had been illegally recorded in several Warsaw restaurants. The private talks, over lavish dinners consumed at the taxpayers’ expense, appeared to show top politicians as cynical, foul-mouthed schemers, and disgusted many Poles. The right-wing opposition compared the leaked tapes to a scandal that shook Hungary several years ago when socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsanyi was secretly recorded in a government meeting, saying that he and his ministers had constantly lied to the public.

During her press conference, Kopacz apologized to PO voters for what they heard in the tapped conversations. She then announced that Health Minister Bartosz Arłukowicz, Treasury Minister Włodzimierz Karpiński and Sports Minister Andrzej Biernat had all handed in their resignations, along with the deputy treasury, economy and environment ministers, the prime minister’s chief advisor Jacek Rostowski, special services coordinator Jacek Cichocki, and Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, head of a PO think tank. An hour later lower house Speaker Radosław Sikorski announced that he was resigning as well. Sienkiewicz, in turn, said he was retiring from politics for good.

Kopacz chose heart surgeon Marian Zembala as the new health minister. Prof. Zembala, who was previously not involved in politics, is the head of the Silesian Center for Heart Diseases in Zabrze, southern Poland. He was a long-time associate of the late Prof. Zbigniew Religa, the first surgeon to perform a successful heart transplant in Poland.

The new sports minister, Adam Korol, a former champion Olympic rower and several-time world champion, is another newcomer to politics.

The Treasury Ministry will be headed by PO deputy Andrzej Czerwiński, and the new special services coordinator is former interior minister Marek Biernacki.

Government spokeswoman małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska has been put forward as a candidate for lower house Speaker.

Nobody saw such sweeping and abrupt changes coming. Some PO members had, in fact, called for a government reshuffle after incumbent Bronisław Komorowski, who hails from the PO, was beaten in Poland’s recent presidential elections by the opposition’s conservative challenger Andrzej Duda. But few expected the reshuffle to be so far-reaching.

The investigation into the eavesdropping scandal has not produced any significant results so far. The main suspects are businessmen who allegedly hired waiters from trendy Warsaw restaurants to secretly record the PO politicians.

Kopacz also said June 10 that she would not approve an annual report from Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet because, she claimed, the prosecutor’s office had been doing a poor job. Seremet, who is formally obligated to submit such a report, addressed deputies in parliament to defend himself, arguing that the prosecutor’s office was handling the investigation into the tapes scandal properly. Seremet said that prosecutors cannot be blamed for the unexpected leak. Kopacz nevertheless said she would seek to have Seremet dismissed before his term expires in 2016. That, however, would require two-thirds of deputies to vote against Seremet, which is highly unlikely because the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) and other right-wing parties have stood up for Seremet. The prosecutor general is also backed by president-elect Duda, who said it was time to “put an end to scandals.”

“Trust in the government has run out,” Duda said. He suggested that the ruling party had taken too long to clear its ranks of those implicated in the tape scandal. “You can’t help but feel surprised that, even though the tape scandal broke out in Poland a year ago, it is only today that we are seeing the government reshuffle and dismiss those who took part in those events,” he said.
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