WARSAW Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Wednesday won a vote of confidence in parliament, facing down for now at least opponents who say he should quit over leaked conversations between senior officials that embarrassed the government.
In a late night vote that was called earlier in the day on Tusk's own initiative, 237 members of parliament voted to express confidence in the government, over the 231 votes that Tusk needed to stay in power.
On paper, the result was not in doubt because Tusk's Civic Platform party (PO), combined with his junior coalition partner the Polish Peasants Party (PSL), had enough seats to win the vote.
But proposing the vote of confidence appeared to be a tactic by Tusk to demonstrate that despite the leaked recordings his coalition was solid, and reminding the opposition they do not have enough votes to unseat his government.
"The risk of government change can re-emerge during the next two months, but for now it seems the ruling coalition managed to push it into the freezer," said Grzegorz Ogonek, economist with ING Bank Slaski.
Tusk previously raised the possibility of an early election in response to the row over the leaked conversations, but he acknowledged on Wednesday this was unlikely for now because no bloc in parliament has the two-thirds majority needed to force a snap election.
Tusk will travel to Brussels on Thursday to attend the first meeting of European Union heads of state after European Parliament elections. Poland will be lobbying to secure influential EU jobs for its candidates.
"With this strong mandate Prime Minister Tusk will go to Brussels," Ewa Kopacz, the speaker of parliament and a senior member of Tusk's party, told reporters after the vote.
The secret audio recordings, published by the Wprost news magazine, were made over several months at locations including high-end Warsaw restaurants.
In tapes made public so far, central bank governor Marek Belka and Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz were recorded discussing the removal of another minister and ways to put pressure on a private businessman.
Belka and Sienkiewicz have said their words were taken out of context and they deny doing anything illegal.
In another recording, Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski blasted the Polish-U.S. alliance and said British Prime Minister David Cameron's policy on Europe was either reckless or incompetent.
In a speech to parliament earlier on Wednesday, Tusk said he believed a criminal group was behind the recordings, aiming to undermine Poland's position and influence its commodity and energy markets.
He linked the eavesdropping to Poland's role over neighboring Ukraine, where it fiercely opposes Russian intervention, and to Warsaw's growing weight inside the EU.
"The background is wide and concerns several occurrences that you could observe recently," Tusk said. "They relate to people who acted in the sphere of gas links between Poland and Russia."
"There's an element concerning the coal trade from the east," he added. "The association seems obvious ... the situation in Ukraine and Europe is part of that."
Polish prosecutors said on Wednesday they had charged two people with illegally recording conversations and were questioning two more.
The tape row and uncertainty over the future of both the government and the central bank chief have weighed on the Polish currency as well as on the Warsaw bourse. It has also hit the popularity of Tusk's party.
Poland's main opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS) said it would call for a vote of no confidence to Tusk's government. This also requires a simple majority. PiS on its own cannot muster that many votes.
The no-confidence vote cannot be considered for another seven days, under parliamentary rules.
(Writing by Adrian Krajewski; Editing by Christian Lowe)