Poland's senior right-wing party moving to govern alone

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FILE - In this July 10, 2020 file photo, Poland's ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, left, attends a police-guarded ceremony in Warsaw, Poland. An official with Poland's conservative governing party said Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, that the the country's right-wing coalition government has collapsed. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, file)

An official with Poland's conservative governing party said Friday that the country's right-wing government coalition has collapsed.

Marek Suski said the Law and Justice party will continue to run Poland as a minority government, without the junior partners that were part of the coalition dubbed the United Right.

“The coalition at the moment does not exist,” Suski said. “Our former coalition partners should be packing up their desks.”

It was not immediately clear if the announcement of the coalition's collapse was final, or if the threats amounted to a tactical power play as a governing crisis deepens. A lawmaker from one of the junior partners insisted that the coalition still exists.

Others used less definitive language.

“Let us not prejudge, because various things are possible in politics. A lot can still happen, but at the moment the situation is such that the coalition practically does not exist,” Ryszard Terlecki, the Law and Justice party leader in parliament, said.

Terlecki said party leaders would meet Monday to discuss their further steps and that an early election could not be ruled out if a minority government proves unable to pass legislation.

Law and Justice has been governing with the support of two small parties, one led by the justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, since 2015. In last year's parliamentary election, they strengthened the share of the seats in parliament held by the coalition.

The announcement Friday morning came after Ziobro and members of his United Poland party voted against an animal welfare bill proposed by powerful Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczyński.

Kaczyński, 71, is a lawmaker in parliament and has no official government role, but he is widely understood to be Poland's dominating political force, deciding government policies and appointments.

The lower house of parliament, or Sejm, approved provisions of the proposed bill that included the prohibition of breeding fur animals and limitations on ritual slaughter.

Law and Justice managed to get the bill passed with the support of opposition lawmakers.

Suski confirmed that Kaczyński told members of Law and Justice's junior partners in a closed-door meeting before the vote that “the tail cannot wag the dog."

Suski said it was important to not accept cruelty to animals, adding “only good people should govern Poland.”

Tensions have been building within the coalition for months.

Jarosław Gowin, the head of the other small junior party, resigned from his position as deputy prime minister in April in opposition to the government's plan to hold Poland's presidential election on schedule in May despite the coronavirus pandemic.

After much political wrangling, the election was ultimately postponed until the summer.

Kaczyński appears to be trying to reposition his party to gain wider public appeal after elections last year and this year showed Law and Justice remained Poland's most popular party but without overwhelming support in the country's deeply divided society.

Critically, young Poles tend to support parties that are either socially liberal or on the far right, which poses a problem for Law and Justice's continued dominance in the future.

The party's presidential candidate, Andrzej Duda, won reelection in July, but only barely, with 51%, and thanks to strong support from older rural voters.

There is also an ideological struggle within the coalition ranks that pits hard-liners like Ziobro against relatively more moderate conservatives, like Gowin.

The strains broke into the open this week as Kaczyński led talks on reshuffling the government with the aim of reducing the number of government ministries for the stated purpose of efficiency.

The deeper rift appears related to a struggle for power within the ruling camp as leading figures position themselves for a time when Kaczyński, 71, will no longer be the dominating force on the political right.

Polish media say there’s a strong rivalry between Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Ziobro,

Morawiecki is seen as having strong backing from Kaczyński.

Radio station RMF FM reported that Kaczyński would meet Friday with the prime minister and cited sources close to the government saying that Ziobro could be dismissed.