A forthcoming coalition agreement has been the topic of many speculations and heated discussions in the Law and Justice party headquarters at least since the middle of last week. When the event finally took place, the coalition partners claimed to be relieved and content. However, after signing the document, they left the room without even shaking hands.
Throughout the negotiation talks, the Law and Justice party had always been very direct about its intentions to reduce the number of ministries. “Although it is essentially a technical measure, given the coalitional character of our government and other politically relevant circumstances, there’s also a political aspect to it”- Jarosław Kaczyński explained in an interview for the government-friendly weekly “Sieci”.
The cabinet reshuffle has been interrupted by an intra-governmental feud. Members of the Solidarity Poland party lead by Zbigniew Ziobro refused to support the animal protection act and the so-called “impunity bill”. The latter was supposed to protect government officials from legal responsibility for violating the law if they did so in an effort to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. In response, Kaczyński announced an end of the coalition government, but then returned to the negotiating table four days later.
Cabinet reshuffle, aka merging ministries
While the official content of the coalition deal remains anyone’s guess, leaks from the final negotiation talks suggest that the government wants to do away with the Ministry of Marine Economy and Inland Navigation and that the Chancellery of the Prime Minister is supposed to take over tasks previously performed by the Ministry of Digitalization. But the cabinet reshuffle also means a few ministerial mergers: The Ministry of National Education will be merged with the Ministry of Science; the Ministry of Sport with the Ministry of Culture; the Ministry of Environment with the Ministry of Climate; and the Ministry of Development will be joined with the Ministry of Family, Labour, and Social Policy.
The last Ministry will be overseen by the leader of the Agreement Party, Jarosław Gowin. He is said to be joining the government again as the deputy prime minister. During the negotiations, Gowin was allegedly pushing to become a key decision-maker on issues concerning the economy.
But the reshuffle also comes with some casualties. A member of the Agreement Party, Jadwiga Emilewicz, will be leaving the government. In May, she had replaced Gowin in his role as the deputy prime minister. Emilewicz was promoted after Gowin decided to step down from office following his refusal to support the idea of conducting an all-mail presidential election.
Our sources from inside the government claimed that Gowin’s decision infuriated Kaczyński so much that the leader of the Law and Justice party was trying to sabotage his political environment and cause the Agreement Party to implode. Gowin himself meanwhile, was supposed to be left without any political allies. In the end, however, Kaczyński’s plan failed to materialize.
Other casualties of the forthcoming cabinet reshuffle include the Minister of Agriculture, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, who voted against the animal protection act (also called the “Kaczyński Five”) claiming that it might negatively affect voter support in provincial regions. Commenting on the bill in a radio interview, Ardanowski went a step further and spoke of “governing by force” and “Marxist narratives”.
One of our informants, a high-level official from the Law and Justice party, told us that Ardanowski might be replaced by Henryk Kowalczyk- a protégé of the former Prime Minister Beata Szydło.
The name of a controversial Law and Justice MP, Przemysław Czarnek, also keeps being thrown around. When Kaczyński threatened his political partners with ending the coalition government, Czarnek was allegedly one of the potential candidates to replace Zbigniew Ziobro as the Minister of Justice. Now, we hear that Czarnek has a vital interest in overseeing the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Recently, he became known for his homophobic tirades. He claimed, for example, that non-heteronormative people “are inferior to normal people” and that “we should stop listening to these moronic statements about human rights and all that equality nonsense”.
Ziobro gets to keep his deputy ministers
The reduced number of deputy ministers is another critical element of the governmental puzzle. The more of them in a given ministry, the greater the political influence of the coalition partner. According to unofficial information, each of the coalition members was supposed to dismiss two of its deputy ministers. The Agreement Party allegedly named Zbigniew Gryglas (state assets) and Jacek Żalek (funds and regional policy). Despite the agreement, however, Solidarity Poland was able to retain its deputies.
Ziobro’s acolytes are safe because the Law and Justice party failed to deliver on its previous coalition agreement and blocked the appointment of two deputy ministers from Solidary Poland. The exemption has important consequences for Zbigniew Ziobro's closest political associates- Sebastian Kaleta (justice), Jacek Ozdoba (climate), and Janusz Kowalski (state assets) are likely to keep their ministerial seats.
According to our sources, Prime Minister Morawiecki was hoping to get rid of Kowalski – his ardent critic who adamantly opposed mail-in voting. - He fell out of favor with Morawiecki after publicly saying that it was not Sasin who signed the decision to launch the whole mail-in procedure, but the Prime Minister - says a member of one of the coalition parties.
Our informant claims that Kowalski gets to keep his position.
Kaczyński to join the government as deputy prime minister
After the cabinet reshuffle, Ziobro’s faction will be free to nominate one of its members to sit in the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. Ziobro also gets to keep the Ministry of Justice, but from now on, his power won’t be unchecked. Jarosław Kaczyński, who joins the government as deputy prime minister, will become his new superior. Moreover, Kaczyński is supposed to chair a new, tailor-made government institution- the National Security Committee. It will allow him to coordinate the decisions of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of National Defense.
– In general, not much changes for us – says a member of Solidarity Poland.
Members of the Law and Justice party disagree. Thanks to Kaczyński’s presence in the government, the Minister of Justice will lose his former sovereignty. His political decisions are about to become “more disciplined”- they say.
Widely seen as Kaczyński’s protégé groomed to eventually replace him as the chair of the Law and Justice, Prime Minister Morawiecki is also likely to benefit from Kaczyński decision to join the government.
Animal protection act and impunity bill: postponed but not abandoned
Included in the coalition deal is a guarantee of support for the animal protection bill. Should the president choose to veto it, Solidarity Poland declared itself ready to provide enough votes to override his decision (it would require at least 276 votes). Currently, the draft awaits an amendment by the Senate.
Another bill Ziobro’s faction initially refused to support is the so-called „impunity bill”. It remains an open question whether the government succeeds in pushing it through. The act is supposed to return to the parliamentary floor at some point, but not in the version originally proposed by the Law and Justice.
As for the government’s long term strategy, the key issue on its agenda will be the completion of its justice system “reform”. Moreover, our informants tell us that a family rights protection bill also found its way into the coalition agreement.
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