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Poland’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party risks losing control over the country’s ruling coalition thanks to an unexpected dispute over an animal rights bill.
The animal rights bill, which seeks to ban fur farming and the use of animals in circuses, lies close to the heart of PiS’s cat-loving leader Jarosław Kaczyński but threatens to undermine Warsaw’s governing right-wing coalition.
Many in the conservative camp say that the ban would affect the entire agricultural sector and they do not want to alienate core rural constituencies.
This new legislation that could hit farming communities has also exacerbated other splits in the right-wing bloc about issues such as gay rights, abortion and the rule of law.
PiS currently holds a majority in the Sejm, the lower chamber of the Polish parliament, thanks to a coalition called Zjednoczona Prawica, or United Right, formed with the radical right-wing Solidarna Polska and more center-right Porozumienie.
The animal rights protection law, which also looks to put limits on religious slaughter, passed in the Sejm on Thursday night but mainly thanks to the votes of the opposition.
PiS’s problem is that there is now intense disagreement in the coalition over two bills: The animal rights legislation and another proposal to give immunity to policymakers who broke the law while fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Tensions have reached such a point that, according to lawmakers, the split within the group could force PiS to form a minority government, or even call an early election.
The animal rights protection law, which also looks to put limits on religious slaughter, passed in the Sejm on Thursday night but mainly thanks to the votes of the opposition. All the parliamentarians from Solidarna Polska were against it, and most Porozumienie MPs abstained.
The rebel group included PiS’s agriculture minister, Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski, who has been lobbying against the new law from the outset, saying it would hit the country’s farmers, and powerful Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, leader of Solidarna Polska and the author of controversial judicial reforms.
As an immediate reaction, Kaczyński decided to suspend 15 party members, including Ardanowski.
The immunity bill, which could give legal cover to several PiS members whose conduct during the pandemic has been questioned, was withdrawn from the voting schedule on Thursday evening, after Ziobro said that Solidarna Polska wouldn’t support it.
This is not the first time the coalition has been on the brink of collapsing. Earlier this year, Porozumienie refused to back PiS’s attempts to organize the presidential election at the first planned date and forced the party to postpone it.
In recent weeks, the coalition had difficult talks before an October governmental reshuffle and suffered from both internal splits on policy issues and a fight between Ziobro and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who are both eyeing an opportunity to take over the leadership of the coalition after Kaczyński steps down.
The party leadership is expected to meet on Monday to discuss scenarios for the coalition. But some politicians have already announced the end of the group — and are hinting at an early election.
“Our coalition partners voted against [the bill] or abstained. And there will have to be consequences,” said Ryszard Terlecki, the head of the PiS caucus. “It looks like, in the current situation, the coalition practically doesn’t exist, and there will have to be consequences when it comes to the positions in the government.”
PiS spokesperson Anita Czerwińska said that, in the party’s opinion, “the coalition doesn’t exist.”
“What happened yesterday in the Sejm, unfortunately was in a certain sense a termination … of this coalition,” she added.
Michał Dworczyk, the head of the prime minister’s political office, said: “A minority government is one of the options. A real option … Such a minority government doesn’t stand a chance of running until the end of the term, so it’ll probably result in … early elections,” he added.
Borys Budka, the head of Civic Coalition, the country’s biggest opposition party, said his party had already started to prepare for an early election. He added that Civic Coalition would negotiate with other parties to team up and vote down the government, if it doesn’t have a majority.
The junior coalition parties don’t want to prejudge any developments.
“I don’t think an early election is what Poland needs right now,” said Jarosław Gowin, the head of Porozumienie.
Solidarna Polska’s MPs have called PiS politicians “friends” but at the same time said that any attempt to dismiss Ziobro would mean the end of the coalition.
Kaczyński himself remains upbeat. “It’s going to be fine,” he told reporters on Thursday night.