Polish government spokesman casts doubt over coalition's future

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s ruling right-wing coalition looked to be hanging by a thread on Monday, as a government spokesman said he could imagine the largest party in the grouping, Law and Justice (PiS), governing without one of its current partners.

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PiS leaders held an emergency meeting on Monday about the future of the United Right coalition that has ruled Poland since 2015, after simmering tensions spilled into open conflict when the junior members refused to support an animal rights bill.

After the meeting PiS spokeswoman Anita Czerwinska tweeted that decisions had been taken and the party would announce the details in due course.

Government spokesman Piotr Muller told private broadcaster Polsat News that recent days “did not fill us with optimism regarding the possibility of continuing cooperation” with the ultra-conservative United Poland party of Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro.

“I can imagine a parliamentary majority with PiS, but without the participation of one of our current coalition partners,” he said, without elaborating.

The PiS-led coalition holds 235 of the 460 seats in the lower house and would lose its majority without United Poland, which has 17 seats. No other parties from outside the alliance have openly offered to go into coalition with PiS.

If a snap election were held now, opinion polls show PiS would fall short of a majority and its two smaller coalition partners would fail to meet the threshold to win seats.

Earlier in the day Ziobro had tried to smooth tensions.

“I believe the United Right coalition is good... I am convinced that this project has a big future ahead of it and can do a lot of good for Poland,” Ziobro told a news conference.

United Poland has demanded a tougher position against gay rights and the European Union’s climate policy, while PiS has argued for a more pragmatic stance.

Ziobro’s party has also criticised government plans to give officials immunity from prosecution for decisions taken to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Ziobro, architect of judicial reforms that have put Poland on a collision course with Brussels, said his party was ready for further talks on the legislation on immunity and the animal rights bill, which it says would damage farmers’ livelihoods.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Anna Wodarczak-Semczuk, Alan Charlish and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Gareth Jones and Philippa Fletcher