Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won an outright majority in the parliamentary elections on October 25, has announced a hardline cabinet line-up, belying hopes that it would strike a more conciliatory stance than in its last term in office.
The line-up - with several controversial names now confirmed as future ministers - is almost entirely in line with leaks from the PiS’ camp that surfaced in the last few days.
Despite speculation that PiS’ co-founder and chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski might be having second thoughts about his deputy Beata Szydlo as prime minister, she has been nominated to become Poland’s new prime minister and the third woman in this position since the first fully democratic election in 1991. Kaczynski dismissed allegations that the party was divided over Szydlo as “completely made up”.
The ministerial names that Szydlo announced on November 9 have long been high up the hierarchy of PiS and its satellites Polska Razem (Poland Together) and Solidarna Polska (Solidary Poland), although they may have been forgotten outside of Poland during the eight-year rule of Civic Platform (PO).
Some of those names appear to have been deliberately kept out of the public eye during the campaign as being too divisive and potentially detrimental to PiS’ election result. Now, however, they are out in the open.
Perhaps the most divisive figure is Antoni Macierewicz, who has been chosen to be the new defence minister. While in opposition, Macierewicz gained notoriety for pushing the theory that the 2010 plane crash over the Russian town of Smolensk that killed then president Lech Kaczynski – Jaroslaw’s twin brother – was an assassination carried out using a bomb.
Other than that, Macierewicz’s has long had a penchant for tracking communist-era spies in Poland’s military with exceptional zeal. With a background as an anti-communist activist in the 1970s, Macierewicz is one of those in PiS convinced that Poland needs to do more to destroy the country’s communist legacy.
As deputy minister of defence during PiS’ short stint in power in 2005-2007, he put his beliefs to work as head of the military intelligence WSI, which he liquidated, harming Poland’s military intelligence effort abroad, according to critics.
A strongly polarising figure, Macierewicz is considered the strong man guaranteeing Poland’s firm course on Russia by the rightwing camp, while left-liberal opinion sees him as the man Russia can easily manipulate to destabilise Poland. “No one knows what [Macierewicz as defence minister] will lead to,” newspaper Rzeczpospolita speculated on November 3.
Whatever Macierewicz may blunder into to damage Poland’s relationships with neighbours, it will be likely be up to Witold Waszczykowski to fix as the new foreign minister.
Waszczykowski is seen as staunchly pro-US politician. A former deputy foreign minister in the PiS government in 2005-2007, Waszczykowski thinks Polish diplomacy “finally must start executing Polish national and security interests”, as he put it in an interview with Rzeczpospolita on November 2.
Another divisive name in the government line-up is Zbigniew Ziobro, who will head the justice ministry. Ziobro is the leader of Solidary Poland, with which he broke away from PiS in 2012, only to be re-admitted to Kaczynski’s circle two years later. His nomination is seen as concession that PiS has make in order to retain unity. Ziobro was justice minister in the PiS cabinet of 2005-2007, when he was widely accused of politicising the judiciary. His critics now say he will attempt to do the same again.
Mariusz Kaminski, former head of the anti-corruption police CBA, has been nominated to be the so-called coordinator of special services. Kaminski was sentenced to three years in prison in March for his role in orchestrating a covert operation carried out in the Ministry of Agriculture in 2007. The court decided CBA agents had led two ministry officials into taking a bribe for changing the permit on a piece of land.
“The sentence can still be appealed and I believe justice will be on Mr Kaminski’s side. He fought corruption and there are no doubts about his usefulness [for the new government],” said Szydlo in answer to a reporter’s question on Kaminski’s controversial nomination.
Dawid Jackiewicz will be the new treasury minister, overseeing many of the ailing or troublesome state-controlled companies such as flag carrier Lot, the power utilities, and – last but not least – coal miners such as Kompania Weglowa, which are still teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Jackiewicz’s portfolio has been thinned out by the creation of a new ministry of energy, with Krzysztof Tchorzewski at the helm. That is perhaps the biggest change compared to speculation, as Piotr Naimski was widely expected to head the new ministry.
Tchorzewski has repeatedly criticised the outgoing Civic Platform government for doing nothing to help Poland’s ailing coal mining sector, which is still responsible for producing the bulk of Polish energy. Tchorzewski is seen as PiS’ best expert on mining, and the new energy ministry is expected to focus on this. “The government and the parliament must look favourably at the mining sector,” he told the industry news portal wnp.pl on October 28.
The new finance minister will be Pawel Szalamacha, a 46-year lawyer. “We are not promising everything to everyone, but we want to carry out a well-thought social policy,” he told Rzeczpospolita in October, referring to PiS’ expenditure ideas such as increased child benefit, the cost of which is expected to run into billions.
“We want to tighten the tax system … so that there are no problems that could cause turbulence on financial markets. We don’t want to have a problem with a deficit exceeding 3% of GDP and we don’t want discussion about Poland’s credit rating,” he said. Szalamacha also said the priorities would be quick introduction of so-called sectoral levies - new taxes on banks and large retailers.
Mateusz Morawiecki will be Szydlo's deputy as well as new minister of development, which - Szydlo said after the presentation of her government's line-up - will take on a much larger role than under the outgoing PO government. As minister, Morawiecki will be responsible for coordination of the government's entire economic policy. To work in the government, Morawiecki has quit his job as CEO of listed bank BZ WBK.
There is one person not named in the upcoming government who appears certain to have a lot of power and will not bear any responsibility. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, former premier and current chairman of PiS, is expected to control key decisions from his pre-war villa in Warsaw’s expensive district of Zoliborz.