Budget 2006: last survival chance of Polish government

Polish lawmakers opened a crucial budget session Tuesday that could help decide whether the country will face new elections, just 10 weeks after the new conservative government took office. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the governing Law and Justice party, has used the threat of new elections as he seeks partners to broaden support for the party's minority government, headed by Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz.

The budget vote is a potential trigger, since the constitution permits President Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw Kaczynski's twin brother, to call new elections if parliament fails to pass a budget on time. But Law and Justice members expressed confidence that the budget would find enough support in parliament.

"I'm certain that it'll be passed because the opposition groups are announcing that for stabilization in parliament they want to vote for the budget," parliament speaker and Law and Justice member Marek Jurek said on state Radio 1.

Some polls have suggested the government could improve its position in new elections; meanwhile, the mere threat also improves its chances of getting its budget through as smaller parties may fear they could lose seats.

The result is also being watched from abroad as an indication of whether this ex-communist nation, the largest of 10 new European Union members, will tackle economic problems such as a jobless rate of 17 percent, or get stuck in political infighting that risks hurting growth and scaring off foreign investors.

A failure to pass the budget could also slow down the spending of EU funds, which the country needs to modernize its dilapidated roads and other infrastructure. The vote comes after Marcinkiewicz's government has met repeatedly this month with opposition parties to shore up support as it has faced resistance to its legislation in parliament and disputes over the budget.

Law and Justice won the country's general election in September, gaining 155 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, 76 votes short of a majority. The party decided to govern alone after talks broke down in October with the pro-market Civic Platform party over power-sharing issues. It won a confidence vote in parliament on Nov. 10 with the informal support of smaller parties. Law and Justice won elections on promises to give the country a fresh start after years of corruption scandals under the previous left-wing government.

But it has since found itself entangled in an ongoing standoff with the main opposition party, Civic Platform, and disagreements with smaller parties over its proposals for new laws, reports the AP. N.U.