Poland's governing coalition on brink of collapse

Warsaw (AFP) –


Poland's ruling right-wing coalition was on the brink of collapse on Friday with leaders mulling a minority government or snap elections after MPs broke ranks over the adoption of a controversial animal rights bill.

"Any option is now possible -- both a minority government and early elections," Piotr Muller, spokesman for the right-wing United Right government led by the dominant Law and Justice (PiS) party, told local media.

Senior PiS politician Marek Suski went a step further, telling the commercial TVN24 news channel that "our partners ended the coalition" when they broke ranks on the animal rights law.

"As of today, we have a minority government," he said, adding, "our former coalition partners should be clearing their desks."

PiS politicians said party leaders would meet on Monday "to decide about the future of the government".

But Michal Wojcik, a senior member of the junior coalition partner United Poland (SP), denied the coalition was in jeopardy.

He said SP party leader Zbigniew Ziobro, currently the justice minister, had not stepped down.

Ziobro is seen as the motor behind a string of controversial judicial reforms that have put Poland on a collision course with the European Union over concerns the changes undermine the rule of law.

Ziobro is also in a power struggle with PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki amid a planned cabinet reshuffle, according to analysts.

- Snap elections? -

Poland's next regularly scheduled parliamentary elections are due in 2023.

But parliament on Friday passed a controversial animal rights bill that divided the right-wing governing alliance.

The two junior partners in the three-party governing coalition refused to vote in favour, provoking the ire of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the powerful PiS leader who put forward the legislation.

Kaczynski has threatened to exclude his coalition partners from the government during the cabinet reshuffle or even call snap elections.

A possible minority PiS government would control at least 197 seats in the 460-seat lower house.

Some analysts and opposition politicians insist the political fireworks are part of high-stakes negotiations between the PiS and its alliance partners, the SP which controls 19 seats and the Agreement party with 18 seats, over the cabinet reshuffle.

Tensions flared in recent weeks after the PiS threatened to halve the number of ministries iots partners control.

The controversial PiS-authored animal rights bill was adopted with the support of the liberal opposition, mustering 356 votes in favour, 75 against and 18 abstentions at an overnight session of parliament.

The measure, which the senate and PiS-allied president are expected to back, bans the breeding of animals for fur and stops exports of halal and kosher meat.

Poland is the world's third biggest fur producer after China and Denmark, according to activists, and a major exporter of kosher meat to Israel and Jewish communities in Europe.

The measure had drawn criticism in the countryside -- a key PiS electoral base -- and experts quoted by Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper said the economic impact would be around 1.6 billion euros ($1.9 billion).