Polish PM's fate uncertain amid talk of a reshuffle

Beata Szydlo, Mateusz MorawieckiThe Associated Press
Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, left, shakes hands with Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, right, prior to a government meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. Szydlo sent a tweet early Tuesday that seems to read like a farewell, amid rumors in Warsaw that she might be replaced by Morawiecki. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

The future of Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo hung in the balance Thursday as top political leaders considered a government reshuffle that could see her replaced.

Even though Szydlo's Cabinet enjoys wide public support and the economy is booming, some members of the ruling Law and Justice party say they want a new government leader to stimulate further economic development.

Government critics saw the possible leadership change as mostly a smoke screen to divert attention from a Friday vote on laws that would give the ruling party significant power over the judicial system.

Party leaders were scheduled to hold a policy meeting in the evening. They could decide to reshuffle the government and replace Szydlo, deputy parliament speaker Ryszard Terlecki, a prominent member of the populist Law and Justice party, said.

"We want to redirect a little the course of our activities," Terlecki said. "So far we have concentrated on political, legislative and system matters. Now is the time to focus on the economy."

The changes in the government would need to be approved during a parliament session next week.

While Szydlo's 2-year-old government is riding high in opinion polls, Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski is thought to be advocating a change.

Some party members have named Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who also serves as the minister overseeing economic development, as a potential replacement for Szydlo.

Poland's economy achieved significant growth during the past two years. The government wants to preserve and perhaps accelerate the trend because it needs funds to support its popular policy of giving money to families with more than one child.

Some see Morawiecki, a former international banker who speaks foreign languages, as a better choice than Szydlo as Poland's tensions with the EU rise.

However, some supporters of the ruling party say it would be wrong to unseat Szydlo, given her appeal to conservatives and the party's popularity.

Earlier Thursday, Szydlo and her Cabinet easily survived a no-confidence vote in parliament that was called by the opposition. It was expected to fail, because the ruling party has a majority in parliament.

Lawmakers voted 239-168, with 17 abstentions, to defeat the motion to topple the prime minister's government.

The centrist opposition Civic Platform party accuses the government of harming Poland with laws that it says are anti-democratic and that have distanced the country from the rest of the European Union.

President Andrzej Duda met with Szydlo and Kaczynski on Thursday to discuss plans for a government reshuffle and urged decisions to be made quickly, Duda spokesman Krzysztof Lapinski said.

Commentators noted that the speculation about the government's future diverted attention from the criticism of two bills set for a final vote in parliament Friday.

The bills would give the government greater control of the judicial system and have been criticized by the European Union and others as an anti-democratic threat to Poland's rule of law.

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Vanessa Gera contributed.

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