Polish Uproar Over Secret Tapes Brings Calls for Election

The uproar in Poland over leaked recordings of conversations among officials threatened to disrupt the government, with the prime minister and the president saying the scandal may lead to early elections.

Poland may be forced to hold a snap ballot, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said today, adding that if it happens, the voting may take place in a “few” weeks or months. The nation may have to set in motion “the mechanism of democratic elections” in response to an “extraordinary situation,” President Bronislaw Komorowski said in a speech in Lowicz, Poland.

The country’s political scene has been in turmoil since the Wprost magazine on June 14 released the recordings of a conversation in which central bank Governor Marek Belka was heard discussing with Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz steps to boost the economy and help the ruling party win an election next year. The central bank is by law required to stay out of politics. The crisis deepened yesterday after the authorities searched the magazine’s offices for the recordings.

“The political fallout is becoming significant,” Janusz Czapinski, a sociologist at Warsaw University, said by phone. “Poles can forgive some loose talk over vodka, but with the opposition and the media jumping all over this, the spillover is spreading and becoming fixed in the public mind.”

The drumbeat of voices endorsing early elections shows the failure to contain the eavesdropping scandal by Tusk, who in 2011 became the first Polish premier to win a second term since the end of communism a quarter-century ago.

‘Serious Crisis’

“Perhaps the only solution is early elections if this crisis of confidence goes too deep,” Tusk told reporters in Warsaw. “We are dealing with a serious crisis, with a failure of counterintelligence services to act effectively.”

Efforts to mend a deepening rift over the electronic eavesdropping is jeopardizing the political stability brought by the country’s longest-serving prime minister since 1989.

The junior partner in the two-party ruling coalition raised the possibility of early elections yesterday.

The European Union’s largest eastern economy grew 3.4 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, the fastest pace in two years. Still, manufacturing stumbled to an 11 month-low in May.

‘Strong Position’

The zloty weakened 0.3 percent to 4.1387 per euro at 5:10 p.m. in Warsaw. The yield on the five-year government bond fell four basis points to 3.08 percent. Local markets were closed today for a holiday.

“The Polish financial system is in a strong position to withstand these sort of developments, but an early election scenario would be taken badly by the markets,” Simon Quijano-Evans, head of emerging-market research at Commerzbank AG in London, said in an e-mail. “All the more so given the uncertainty over the next government’s setup.”

The immediate resignation of the government is backed by 48 percent of 1,004 adults polled yesterday by Millward Brown for TVN, the broadcaster reported on its website. Thirty percent wanted Tusk to stay on, according to the poll, which didn’t give a margin of error.

Unpleasant, Costly

The raid by prosecutors on the offices of Wprost yesterday was “unpleasant” and “costly to me,” Tusk told reporters, adding that he had nothing to do with the search. The premier, who’s defended both men caught up in the scandal, said he won’t step down over the leaks.

The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Sylwester Latkowski, said on the TVP Info news channel after the raid that the magazine would release a second recording on June 23.

“We have a serious problem,” Tusk said. “For my part, I would like to avoid any activity by the authorities that collides with the freedom of speech.”

Prosecutors’ actions were lawful and investigators sought to obtain evidence in a possible crime, Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet said at a news conference in Warsaw today.

“The aim of the action wasn’t to restrict the freedom of speech,’ he said.

Tusk’s two-way coalition controls 234 votes in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, 32 of which belong to Janusz Piechocinski’s Polish Peasants Party. A two-thirds majority, or 307 votes, is required for lawmakers to dissolve the legislature, making Civic Platform’s support necessary to pass any such measure.

‘Seriously Consider’

Lawmakers should ‘‘seriously consider” calling early elections, Piechocinski told Warsaw-based Radio Zet yesterday.

“The situation is feeding on itself and events are mounting, so it looks as if things are getting out of hand,” Henryk Domanski, a sociology professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences, said on TVP Info. “The key test for the government is to allow for a no-confidence vote and that’s what Tusk probably meant.”

The opposition Law and Justice party said June 16 it would consult with other lawmakers about putting forward a joined candidate for prime minister to replace Tusk. Such a measure would require 231 votes to pass. Law and Justice has 136.

Early elections would be impossible to carry out without support from Tusk’s Civic Platform party, since its votes would be needed for the required two-thirds majority to dissolve parliament.

Former President Lech Walesa today dismissed the idea of early elections, while saying that “heads should roll” over the raid on Wprost offices.

“The government’s dismissal and early elections in these circumstances is a bad idea,” Walesa, who led the Solidarity labor movement that helped bring down communism in Poland, said on TVN24. “It won’t clarify anything and could elect somebody even worse.”

‘Not Buying’

Two opposition parties, the Democratic Left Alliance and Your Move, have already said they won’t support any new cabinet led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice, meaning a “constructive” vote of confidence also has no chance of success, according to Olgierd Annusewicz, a political scientist at Warsaw University.

Tusk is probably pushing to get all the tapes out to defuse the situation as soon as possible and may fire the Interior Minister in the next few days, Annusewicz said by phone today. The prime minister may step down next year to give his party new leadership before 2015 elections, he said.

“I’m not buying the early-elections scenario because nobody besides Law and Justice really wants it,” Annusewicz said. “A Polish prime minister has very strong powers under the constitution and it’s very difficult to oust him.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE