WARSAW, Poland — Trying to tough it out in an accelerating government crisis, Poland's prime minister said Thursday that early elections within weeks may be necessary to calm the situation sparked by eavesdropping on political leaders.
Donald Tusk called for the popular weekly magazine Wprost — and other media — to release any secret recordings of leaders' private conversations that they may have. He said Poland was facing a "deep crisis" and that until it is all published the state will be unstable and his team vulnerable to blackmail.
The hastily arranged news conference on a national holiday sparked speculation of imminent dismissals, possibly even Tusk's resignation. But responding to a journalist's question, Tusk said he saw no reason to step down.
"I will not resign in response to actions that, we all know, had criminal character, and, maybe were .... aimed at the government's resignation or fall," Tusk said.
Wprost recently released transcripts and online audio of recordings of a restaurant conversation last July between National Bank of Poland chief Marek Belka and Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, in which they discussed how the central bank might use its power to help the government win re-election in 2015. Critics have decried the apparent collusion as a violation of the bank's independence from political interference.
Tusk, Sienkiewicz and Belka all say the recorded discussion was about hypothetical scenarios and had no influence on policy.
At one point in the conversation, Belka is heard demanding that Jacek Rostowski be removed as Poland's finance minister. Rostowski was fired four months later.
Tusk said Thursday that early elections "in a matter of a few or more weeks" may be necessary if this "crisis of confidence becomes too deep." He is to decide next week on the fate of Sienkiewicz.
Supporting the idea of early elections, President Bronislaw Komorowski said a democratic decision is called for when state institutions cannot react to difficult situations. But that is an unpalatable option for Tusk, whose Civil Platform party is trailing the opposition Law and Justice party in opinion polls after seven years in power.
Tusk's news conference followed an attempt Wednesday evening by police and state prosecutors to seize evidence from the headquarters of the magazine. The chief editor, Sylwester Latkowski — a documentary film maker and journalist — put up resistance and demanded a court order. Having failed to forcefully seize the material, the authorities left without taking away any computers.
Reacting to media outrage, Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet said the action was in accordance with the law and that Latkowski was obliged to hand over the material to assist the ongoing investigation.
In Poland, bugging or wiretapping to get unauthorized access to information is punishable by up to two years in prison.
Prosecutors said that the manager of the restaurant, identified only as Lukasz N., is formally a suspect in the case on two counts of unauthorized access to information.
Wprost was founded in 1982 as a regional periodical, but has since grown into a leading nationwide magazine. It said it obtained the recordings from a third party, whose identity it is allowed to protect under Poland's media law, and is planning to publish more recorded material on Monday.
It suggested that past or current secret agents, a business group or Tusk's political opponents could be behind the recording.