Tusk Doubles Down as Row Over Secret Tapes Rattles Poland

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk tried to draw a line under a scandal over leaked recordings of senior officials by defending his ministers as the president called on the cabinet to test its support with lawmakers.

Facing growing calls for early elections, the premier today said the revelations aim to weaken the government at the time of the Ukrainian crisis and efforts to reshape the European Union, issues in which Poland plays an important role. After outrage greeted Wprost magazine’s June 14 release of leaked recordings of ministers and the central bank chief, more secretly taped conversations emerged during the weekend.

“I’ve taken steps to establish whether the current majority coalition has the will to stay on and is capable of taking responsibility for the country,” President Bronislaw Komorowski told reporters in Warsaw today. “Personnel decisions can be an element of stabilizing the state, but they are up to those involved and the head of government.”

The deepening rift sets the stage for a showdown between Tusk and lawmakers, who want the premier to address parliament when it convenes tomorrow to start a three-day session. The country’s longest-serving prime minister since the fall of communism 25 years ago has tried to regain his footing by saying that surveillance was carried out by a “criminal group” that won’t “dictate to Poland who governs the country.”

The session tomorrow will provide the first chance for the opposition to call a vote of confidence since the scandal broke.

Unprecedented, Planned

“We’re dealing with an unprecedented kind of political crisis,” Tusk said today after meeting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Gdansk, Poland. “It appears the sequence of events is planned, not spontaneous, with the purpose of paralyzing the whole government.”

The zloty advanced 0.3 percent to 4.1584 against the euro at 6:11 p.m. in Warsaw after depreciating the most since January last week as the political crisis deepened. The yield on 10-year government bonds slid six basis points to 3.587 percent, after adding 16 basis points last week.

Anger over the secretly recorded conversations has roiled Polish politics since Wprost released tapes of central bank Governor Marek Belka discussing with Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz steps to boost the economy and help the government win elections.

Tusk last week raised the possibility of early elections in a “few” weeks or months, as did his coalition partner Janusz Piechocinski, the leader of the Polish Peasants Party.

Full, Credible

Voters should go to the polls if the government can’t present a “full and credible” explanation of the taping scandal by the end of summer vacation, Piechocinski said today in Warsaw after meeting the president.

Tusk needs to address parliament and propose a vote of confidence in his government to “put an end to speculation that he’s lost the power to govern,” Leszek Miller, head of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, said yesterday.

The prime minister should step down to make way for “a technocratic government” to guarantee early elections, according to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who heads the biggest opposition party, Law and Justice.

Speaking today, Poland’s president tried to strike a balance, calling for accountability without putting more pressure on the cabinet.

“All the politicians, even if they didn’t break any laws - - because so far I haven’t found any proof of that on any of the tapes -- should consider and take appropriate decisions based on their own sensitivity and their vision of their role as servants of the state,” Komorowski said today.

Alliance Questioned?

Among the leaked recordings that emerged during the weekend is one that features Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski purportedly questioning the value of the country’s alliance with the U.S.

Wprost yesterday released a partial transcript of a conversation purportedly between Sikorski and former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski, in which the foreign minister allegedly said Poland’s alliance with the U.S. is “worthless” because it fosters “a false sense of security” and breeds conflict with Germany and Russia. The comments were taken out context, Marcin Wojciechowski, the ministry’s spokesman, said yesterday.

Tusk’s Civic Platform party holds the key to the cabinet’s future, having enough lawmakers to block any motion to dissolve parliament. The premier may strive to quickly move past the crisis by firing several ministers, or even his entire government, according to Anna Materska-Sosnowska, who teaches Poland’s post-1989 politics at Warsaw University.

No Benefit

“Early elections won’t benefit any of the parties,” Kazimierz Kik, a political scientist at Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce, said by phone. “Tusk should throw somebody to the wolves to calm down the situation.”

The rift over the taping scandal is jeopardizing the political stability brought by Tusk, who in 2011 became the first Polish premier to win a second term since 1989.

“There’s a justified market reaction because there’s heightened risk that two key policy makers - the central bank governor and the foreign minister - can be pushed out,” Lars Christensen, chief emerging-markets analyst at Danske Bank A/S, said by phone today. “It’s the first time in years we’ve had real political uncertainty in Poland. It’s not about the state of the economy, it’s just that the quality of policy makers leaves something to be desired.”

Tusk’s Leadership

Tusk’s Civic Platform party will meet this week to discuss the issue, Krystyna Skowronska, the party’s lawmaker, said by phone on June 20, adding she “didn’t hear” about the idea of replacing the prime minister. Tusk’s leadership is “unquestionable” and the part wasn’t looking for a new premier, Tadeusz Aziewicz, another Civic Platform lawmaker, said by phone the same day.

“I don’t believe that the Civic Platform can replace Tusk as there is nobody else to steer them again to calmer waters,” Kucharczyk from the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw said by phone on June 20. “In the most probable scenario, the current coalition will stay in power until the late 2015 general elections, hoping to contain the scandal and rebuild its position in the polls.”

Longer transcripts of four conversations were published in today’s edition of the magazine. Edited versions of the recordings will follow, Agnieszka Burzynska, a reporter for the magazine, said on the TVN24 channel. The government will respond once everything has been released, spokeswoman Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska said by phone yesterday.

Sikorski, Rostowski

Among the freshly released recordings is the conversation purportedly between Sikorski and Rostowski, in which they allegedly discuss U.S. relations. According to the transcripts, they also allegedly debate possible Polish candidates for a portfolio on the European Commission, including Tusk’s merits to head the EU’s executive.

Rostowski declined to comment on Wprost’s publication on what he called “a private conversation between two people who have been friends for more than 30 years.” He also said he was planning to ask prosecutors to investigate the case.

“Wiretapping and recording is a crime and so is publishing information from such recordings,” he told radio TOK FM in an interview today.

Ruling Coalition

Tusk’s two-way coalition controls 234 votes in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, 32 of which belong to the 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.

The Democratic Left Alliance last week dismissed the idea of putting forward a joined candidate for prime minister with the Law and Justice. Such a measure would require 231 votes to pass. Law and Justice has 136.

If the prime minister resigns, the president has two weeks to propose a replacement, who then has to win a confidence vote in parliament.

Komorowski said today the constitution is clear that the president doesn’t initiate government changes. Tusk said he wouldn’t fire government officials for using crude language in private conversations.

The premier may replace his ministers and put a new government to a parliamentary vote, according to Materska-Sosnowska at Warsaw University. Early elections would threaten to produce a hung parliament as none of the opposition parties are capable of forming a coalition, she said.

“The prime minister doesn’t know where the next blow may be coming from,” she said. “In such a situation, he likes to surprise.”

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