Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Caesar and Brutus make up?

Civic Platform (PO) leader and PM Donald Tusk and erstwhile ally Grzegorz Schetyna have been warring for some time over control of the PO. The battle has divided the party at the worst possible time. But reports suggest the pair hunkered down on Tuesday evening in an attempt to bury the hatchet.

The Tusk-Schetyna duo was the dynamic centrepiece of a PO that has not lost an election since 2007. Tusk was the friendly face who found a steely spine for political battle few thought he had. Schetyna was the organisational mastermind expert a stiffening support in a once unruly party. But the PO's largely uncontested rule chipped away at a friendship cinched on the football pitch until the current seemingly irreconcilable gulf.

The Tusk-Schetyna relationship has been in the pits since at least autumn 2009 when the so-called "gambling gate" affair broke out. This saw the PO's caucus leader and sport minister ensnared in a seeming attempt to procure favourable changes to legislation for friendly faces in the gambling business. Schetyna was caught up as well. As part of a purge, Tusk fired the caucus leader and sport minister and relegated Schetyna from being deputy PM and interior minister to caucus leader.

Many saw Tusk's move as just, but others noted he was especially harsh on Schetyna. This has since been read as Tusk's failed bid to undermine the authority of his formerly close ally. Schetyna bounced back and was able to build enough support to become the speaker of the lower house, one of the most powerful positions in Poland.

The most recent peak of hatred came in January. Schetyna criticised Tusk for being slow to react to a Russian report blaming Polish pilots for the April 2010 plane crash in Russia that killed President Lech Kaczynski and scores more. Tusk was outraged. He was reported to have laid into Schetyna for many hours at a later meeting, warning that those who oppose him end badly. Tusk's competitors in the PO have a tendency to fast become political corpses.

The fight has been expected to spill over to the creation of the PO's electoral lists for general elections to be held in October, thereby dividing the party at a time it most needs unity and renewal.

The reports of rapprochement thus come for PO supporters at an opportune time. PO member Jaroslaw Gowin, a Schetyna ally, told radio station RMF FM on Wednesday that "everything will be okay." But he was brief.

Has the PO's Caesar really patched things up with the potential Brutus? Tusk better hope so. Any failure or perceived failure in the elections will rest on his shoulders. He would open himself up to being purged, giving Brutus cause to say "sic semper tyrannis," that is loosely, "death to tyrants."

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