Poland was rocked by its second political crisis in a week yesterday when a senior aide to the Prime Minister was filmed secretly offering financial and political inducements to persuade an MP to switch political parties.
The row is likely to deal a fatal blow to the beleaguered, right-wing government led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski and bring elections next month.
Last week the Polish Prime Minister - whose twin brother, Lech, is Poland's president - unceremoniously sacked the deputy premier, Andrzej Lepper, leader of the ultra-nationalist Self-Defence party. The acrimonious row broke apart the ruling coalition and deprived Mr Kaczynski's Law and Justice Party of its parliamentary majority.
The drama, which engulfed Warsaw yesterday, emerged from efforts by Law and Justice to lure enough MPs from rival parties to stay in government.
Unbeknown to the Prime Minister's chef de cabinet, Adam Lipinski, his two meetings with Renata Beger, an MP from Mr Lepper's Self-Defence party, were filmed secretly. Footage of the encounters, in a hotel room next to the parliament building in Warsaw, was being screened all day on Polish television yesterday. It shows Mr Lipinski exploring with Ms Berger what post she would want if she were to switch party.
"Secretary of State in the agriculture ministry, yes?" he asked. "You know, this is not a problem at all because we have plenty of free positions." Though Mr Lipinski subsequently qualified the job offer, he held another, more damaging, discussion. This time he discussed paying off a penalty of 500,000 zlotys (£85,000) which Self-Defence has forced its MPs to promise they would pay if they quit their party.
When Ms Beger asked about the possibility of financial help, Mr Lipinski replied: "Yes, we were thinking of creating some fund." Asked to explain his comments, Mr Lipinski later told TVN that he wanted to prevent the MPs being "threatened", adding: "I believe that Law and Justice should help these Self-Defence deputies."
That hardly convinced the Prime Minister's many critics and prompted other political parties to freeze coalition negotiations with Mr Kaczynski.
Jaroslaw Kalinowski, leader of the Peasants' Party, said: "There is absolutely no possibility of coalition talks now with Law and Justice after what happened last night. This is a clear case of corruption. The point now is to find a way out of this situation and there is the prospect of early elections on the horizon."
The leader of the largest opposition party, the centre-right Civic Platform, Donald Tusk, accused the government of corruption, called on Mr Kaczynski to resign and said parliament should be dissolved.
All "decent people" should demand the "immediate resignation of Jaroslaw Kacz-ynski," Mr Tusk said.
Even before the revelations, Mr Kaczynski faced a difficult task in trying to cobble together a new coalition, and many believe such a prospect is now impossible. Elections had already been pencilled in for 26 November and Law and Justice is likely to lose seats.
Nationalist, Eurosceptic and noted campaigners against gay rights, the Kaczynski twins have made few friends in European capitals. However, yesterday's convulsions will be seen as further evidence of political instability in the EU's new, eastern, countries, following last week's riots in Hungary.
In its short life the government has been no stranger to drama. Earlier this year President Lech Kaczynski sacked his initial Prime Minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, and installed his twin brother, breaking a pre-election pledge not to concentrate Poland's two most powerful political jobs in the hands of one family.Reuse content