European Council President Donald Tusk looks on during a meeting at the Capitol Hill in Rome, Italy, May 5, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi(reuters_tickers)
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party will back former centrist prime minister Donald Tusk for a second term as European Council president in a year's time, a senior PiS figure said on Monday.
The pledge of support, made by Ryszard Czarnecki who is vice-president of the European Parliament, came despite repeated criticism of Tusk by the PiS and appeared a deliberate move by the party to clear up any ambiguity on the issue.
Tusk wishes to stay in his Brussels job when his current two and a half year spell ends in May next year, EU sources say, and Czarnecki's comment in a daily newspaper was certain to boost Tusk's chances of doing that.
Until now it was not clear whether the PiS, which is led by Tusk's political foe, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, would throw its weight behind him.
It has repeatedly said that Tusk was "politically" responsible for the 2010 plane crash which killed Poland's president and Kaczynski's twin brother, Lech. Tusk was prime minister at the time and some in the PiS argue he is guilty of not ensuring the president's safety.
But in an opinion piece carried by the daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita on Monday, Czarnecki said the PiS would stick to an "unwritten rule of Polish politics," that the Polish government should always back Poles in top posts abroad.
"If Tusk does not become head of the European Council again, it will not be due to the Law and Justice government's actions, but due to the lack of support from other countries. He will have ours," Czarnecki said.
Tusk's Civic Platform party (PO), now the second-largest parliamentary force after losing to PiS last October, greeted Czarnecki's announcement sceptically.
"Jaroslaw Kaczynski prefers for Tusk to be in (Brussels), and not in Poland, because he is traumatised by eight election losses," Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, a prominent PO politician told private radio Zet, referring to a string of PO's election victories under the former leader.
"He always lost to Tusk, so he doesn't want him here."
The plane crash which killed president Lech Kaczynski and a large number of high-rank officials took place near Smolensk, western Russia, close to the place where Stalinist secret police forces shot some of the 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals they executed in 1940.
While the crash initially united Poles in grief, it has since given rise to bitter domestic political divisions.
An inquiry by Tusk's government returned a verdict of pilot error but since coming to power, PiS has reopened the investigation, saying an onboard explosion could have caused the crash.
(Reporting by Wiktor Szary; Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; Editing by Richard Balmforth)