Official: Polish leader's ill health not sparking infighting

A government official denied rumors Thursday that the illness of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland's powerful ruling party leader, has sparked infighting at the highest political levels.

Kaczynski, 69, has been in retreat from active political life for several weeks, first hospitalized and now reportedly recovering and continuing to be monitored as an outpatient. The hospital said it treated him for osteoarthritis in a knee, though the health minister said that not admitting him "would have threatened his life."

Kaczynski's absence from public view has generated intense speculation about who would eventually replace the man seen as the real power behind the government — the one who picks prime ministers and inspires the nationalist and conservative policies that seek to deeply reshape the nation of 38 million.

Rumors are rife of inner-party factions fighting for control, with newspapers naming Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, Interior Minister Joachim Brudzisnki, a close associate of Kaczynski's, and Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydlo as among those positioning themselves for an eventual post-Kaczynski era.

Szydlo — whom Kaczynski initially promoted to prime minister but later removed — was asked in an interview on state radio about the "Game of Thrones" allegedly playing out behind the scenes.

"I can assure you that everything in Law and Justice is in the best order," Szydlo shot back. "The king is one. Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski is king."

Szydlo described the rumors about inner-party conflicts as the work of people who seek to gain power for themselves.

"Jaroslaw Kaczynski is and will be the chairman of Law and Justice. Nothing has changed here," Szydlo added. "All the sensations that arise are like stories about the Loch Ness monster."

Kaczynski's age and illness also have observers wondering what political course the Central European nation would take if his absence from day-to-day politics becomes prolonged.

Long admired for its democratic achievements, Poland under Kaczynski's direction has taken what many considered to be an illiberal turn that has put the country in conflict with the European Union and Western allies.

Bartosz Kownacki, a lawmaker from the ruling party and a former deputy defense minister, told The Associated Press earlier this week that while in the hospital, Kaczynski stayed up to speed on politics and had "more time to think about strategy."

He also acknowledged Kaczynski's decisive role in the party, saying that "there is no doubt that without Chairman Kaczynski, Law and Justice would not be what it is."

"Without him (the party) is like the Poland football team without Robert Lewandowski," Kownacki said, referring to the national team's captain and star player.