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WARSAW — Jarosław Kaczyński is coming out of the shadows.
After five years of ruling Poland from the headquarters of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, Kaczyński is poised to enter the government following a brutal fight for power among his deputies.
“There really is such a plan, for Jarosław Kaczyński to join the government and take the position of head of the security committee,” Ryszard Terlecki, a senior member of PiS and deputy speaker of the Senate, told reporters on Thursday, saying Kaczyński would have the rank of deputy prime minister. “Everything indicates that will happen.”
The final deal among the three parties forming the United Right coalition governing Poland is set to be announced on Saturday.
If that’s what happens, it would mark a revolution in the way Poland is ruled.
The government limousines crowding the parking lot in front of the party HQ made it clear who really called the shots.
Ever since PiS won power in 2015, Kaczyński has preferred to steer the country from the dilapidated office tower on Nowogrodzka Street on the edge of downtown Warsaw instead of taking a government post.
Officially nothing more than a run-of-the-mill member of parliament, he nominated others — first Beata Szydło and then Mateusz Morawiecki — to formally run the government and travel to Brussels for EU summits. But the government limousines crowding the parking lot in front of the party HQ made it clear who really called the shots.
Kaczyński has also left his deputies to scrap among themselves, preventing any of them from accumulating enough power to challenge him.
But that system came close to collapse in recent weeks thanks to the growing conflict over who gets to take over PiS once Kaczyński, 71, retires. He’s indicated that the current four-year parliamentary term may be his last.
The main rivals are Zbigniew Ziobro, the powerful justice minister and chief prosecutor who is also the leader of the right-wing United Poland party, and Morawiecki, a technocrat who used to be an ally of centrist former Prime Minister Donald Tusk before joining PiS.
Ziobro has been circling around Kaczyński for years, eager to take over PiS. Kaczyński ejected him in 2011 after a failed coup. Since then they’ve come to an uneasy understanding. Ziobro’s party has 17 MPs, making it crucial for the United Right coalition, which has 239 seats in the 460-member lower house of parliament.
According to Polish media, Ziobro pressed Kaczyński to readmit him to PiS, which would allow him to make a run for the top job.
When he was rebuffed, United Poland refused to move forward on two pieces of legislation important to Kaczyński — one on animal welfare and another on shielding officials who may have broken the law in reacting to the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kaczyński had to intervene, but both he and Ziobro are locked in a mutual clinch. Without him, PiS loses its parliamentary majority, but opinion polls show United Poland wouldn’t be able to win parliamentary seats without being part of a coalition with PiS.
The government reshuffle is supposed to calm that conflict.
Formally, Kaczyński’s new role will be to oversee the justice, defense and interior ministries, making him Ziobro’s boss, but Ziobro continues to hang on to his instruments of power — the justice ministry, the prosecutor’s office and the justice system he has filled with loyalist judges. It’s that effort to reshape the justice system that sparked the ongoing conflict between Warsaw and the EU.
“It’s a sign of weakness for Kaczyński that he was unable to control Ziobro from Nowogrodzka, and also showed Morawiecki’s weakness in that he wasn’t able to hobble Ziobro,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, president of the Warsaw-based Institute of Public Affairs think tank.
Morawiecki will preside over Cabinet meetings where his main rival continues to sit, and where Kaczyński, his ostensible subordinate, will, in reality, be his boss.
The next turn in the conflict comes in November. That’s when Morawiecki may be selected as the deputy leader of PiS, placing him in a strong position to take the reins once Kaczyński retires.
But Morawiecki comes out of the conflict weaker than he went in, as does Kaczyński.
“Kaczyński leaves his comfortable back seat and becomes a politician like all the others,” said Kuczarczyk, adding: “For Morawiecki, this is pretty humiliating.”