WARSAW. JULY 10. INTERFAX C.NTRAL EUROPE - Poland will likely hold early elections, although an exact date is difficult to determine at this point, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in a Tuesday interview for PR1 radio station.
"I expect that, in the final reckoning, there will be elections, although it is difficult for me to specify the timing," Kaczynski said.
Kaczynski sacked his deputy, Agriculture Minister Andrzej Lepper, late Monday amid allegations of corruption. Lepper, who also leads populist Samoobrona (Self-Defense), said he would lead his party out of the government coalition, leaving it short of parliamentary majority.
Kaczynski announced the development in a television interview for public broadcaster TVP1.
"I cannot lawfully tell you much at this point," Kaczynski said. "But I can say that I cannot rule out that Mr. Andrzej Lepper has taken part in activities criminal in nature. There are a sufficient number of premises [to believe this is the case]."
Lepper, whose populist party has more than 50 MPs, said in an interview for private television news channel TVN 24 that he had intended to offer his resignation and that his party would now pull out of the governing coalition, leaving it short of a majority in the 460-seat Sejm, the lower house of Polish Parliament.
"I talked to the prime minister today, and I said I am handing in my resignation," Lepper said. "And as soon as I entered Mr. Prime Minister's [office I saw] he was [in the process of] signing my resignation. So I go: 'That's not the way it's done Mr. Prime Minister. And I'm just informing you that there is no coalition.'"
The prime minister said that early elections would be called if he cannot secure a government majority.
"If it turns out that there is no possibility of maintaining a government majority, there will be early elections," Kaczynski said. "We are not afraid of this solution [of early elections]."
The conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, the leading light of the government coalition, has been trailing the center-right opposition party Civic Platform (PO) in the polls, but only by a slight margin that has rarely widened to more than two or three percentage points.
While the current term of Parliament runs to autumn 2009, elections could be held as early as this autumn, Kaczynski said late Monday.
"Probably in the autumn, but it is too early to speculate when it comes to the time," he said. "It could probably be a little later than that."
A new investigation into Samoobrona member Sports Minister Tomasz Lipiec (PiS), who was also sacked in connection to "potentially serious allegations," is also ongoing, Kaczynski said.
Lepper, who was sentenced for crimes such as organizing violent protests before his elevation to the government, was fired for criticizing government policy late in 2006, but returned within a month. He said that this time, however, he will not return, despite a promise from the prime minister that he could return if cleared of the charges.
"I did not agree to that," he said on TVN 24. "I will not return to this government."