Speculation is mounting about the long-term future of Poland’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party (PiS), after senior government officials acknowledged that the party leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, who has not made a public appearance since April, was treated in hospital earlier this year for a “life-threatening situation”.
Kaczyński returned to work last week after spending 37 days in a Warsaw military hospital. His aides had long maintained that his absence had been due to arthritis in his knee, but on Friday the health minister, Łukasz Szumowski, told Polish radio that “Jarosław Kaczyński’s state of health was such that not accepting him to the hospital would have threatened his life, and therefore he was admitted in an acute manner”.
Kaczyński, who turns 69 on Monday, is the leader and driving force behind the Law and Justice party, which assumed office after victory in parliamentary elections in 2015. Though the former prime minister does not hold any public office other than that of a backbench member of parliament, he is Poland’s undisputed de facto leader, handpicking ministers and making strategic decisions on the future of the country from his party office in a ramshackle building in central Warsaw.
In recent weeks, senior officials have moved to quash the speculation regarding Kaczyński’s health, in comments that appeared to be directed at members of their own party. “All those dreaming about replacing Kaczyński, must get armed with a very long patience,” said the interior minister, Joachim Brudziński, earlier this month. “The chairman is in full control of what is going on in the party and is not planning a political retirement.”
My report for the Guardian can be found here.