Wojciech Kość in Warsaw -
Three Polish cabinet ministers and Radoslaw Sikorski, speaker of parliament, handed in their resignations to Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz on June 10, as the ruling Civic Platform party (PO) tried to limit the damage caused by a leaked investigation into illegal recordings of top state officials.
Treasury Minister Wlodzimierz Karpinski, as well as Minister of Sport Andrzej Biernat and Bartosz Arlukowicz, responsible for healthcare, stepped down from the cabinet, as did Jacek Cichocki, minister in charge of security, and deputies from the treasury, economy, and environment ministries. Kopacz said the names of the new ministers would be announced next week.
Perhaps most surprising is the resignation of Sikorski. At the time of the secret recordings, he was foreign minister and had been talked about as a potential Nato secretary-general. His resignation now, made “in the interest of the PO that I consider more important than personal ambitions”, appears to make little sense, given that he had already resigned once for being part of the scandal. Sikorski will now head PO’s campaign in his home region of Bydgoszcz, he told reporters on June 10.
Sikorski and other officials were illegally recorded in 2013 and 2014 in a Warsaw restaurant by waiters reportedly acting on orders from a disgruntled businessman who believed the government meddled with his coal importing business.
The recordings were first released a year ago in a series of publications by weekly Wprost, prompting a criminal investigation under prosecutor general Andrzej Seremet. The recordings also drew popular anger at the uncouth language politicians used while discussing state matters over expensive meals. Some heads rolled at the time, but the scandal appeared to have blown over.
It received a second life on June 8, however, after the full files from the investigation were leaked on Facebook by another businessman, Zbigniew Stonoga. The leak prompted questions about the professionalism of the prosecutor and the integrity of security agency ABW, as the names of several of its officers appeared in the leaked files without any protection.
The reappearance of the scandal comes at a critical time for PO. Five months ahead of the parliamentary election, the party has been put on the defensive by losing the presidency to the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party. PO has been trailing to PiS in several recent polls.
As the opposition demanded a parliamentary investigation, Kopacz announced the resignations and issued an apology to PO supporters. “Civic Platform voters have recently had many difficult moments,” Kopacz said during a short press conference to announce the resignations. “On behalf of the party I am very sincerely sorry.”
“It is election time and we should be talking about our programmes,” Kopacz added. “Civic Platform has very concrete proposals for voters. It cannot be burdened by the tapes.”
Kopacz also took advantage of the leak to get rid of some unpopular ministers unconnected to the scandal, such as healthcare minister Arlukowicz.
Commentators point out, however, that the reshuffle may have come too late. “This should have been done a long time ago. The last moment was before the presidential election. Right now, it appears as if it is Stonoga who has reshuffled the government, not the PM,” liberal political scientist Leszek Jazdzewski, told Gazeta Wyborcza.
“Kopacz has not shown leadership skills in the past few months and she is unable now to stop the process of PO’s decomposition. The reshuffling will not change much and the tapes scandal will continue to haunt the government, with very serious consequences for the entire political scene,” Aleksander Smolar, head of the Batory Foundation, told the newspaper.
Should commentators be right, the sudden and belated changes in the government will only deepen the crisis PO has found itself in, playing in to the hands of PiS. In a poll published on June 10 – carried out before the reshuffle – PiS led with 32% of the vote, ahead of PO at 24%.
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