By Michal Janusz and Marcin Goclowski
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's president and prime minister said on Thursday an early election was a possibility after security forces raided a magazine that published tapes embarrassing to the government, provoking a storm of protest about press freedom.
In an affair that has tarnished Poland's image as a model post-communist democracy, the central bank governor and interior minister were secretly recorded discussing the removal of another minister and ways to pressure a private businessman.
Central bank governor Marek Belka and Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz have said their words were taken out of context and they deny doing anything illegal.
But the government's response to the scandal has appeared to do it more damage than the tapes themselves, with anger mounting over Prime Minister Donald Tusk's refusal to fire Sienkiewicz and over the night-time raid on the magazine's offices.
Photographs posted on Twitter showed officials wrestling to take a laptop out of the hands of Sylwester Latkowski, the editor-in-chief of Wprost magazine. He later said he had managed to hold on to the laptop and also a thumb drive containing more recordings which his magazine planned to publish on Monday.
"As Polish prime minister I feel responsible for everything and as you can imagine, the government and I will pay a political price for these events, I don't rule out that the judgement (of voters) will be severe," Tusk told a news conference.
Tusk said he had no control over what prosecutors did. He said he wanted to respect freedom of speech but at the same time there was a need to track down whoever made the illegal recording and prevent as-yet unpublished tapes being used to blackmail officials.
"It may happen that the only solution will be earlier elections if the crisis in confidence is so deep," Tusk added.
MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY LEADS POLLS
The next scheduled parliamentary election in Poland is at the end of 2015. Parliament can trigger an early election if two-thirds of lawmakers vote for one.
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, in brief televised remarks, also raised the possibility of an election. The president and the prime minister are political allies.
"If one see a particularly difficult situation, then there is a need to mobilise normal authority to act. And if it is impossible to do that, then one needs to refer to the mechanism of democratic elections," Komorowski said.
An opinion poll conducted since the tapes emerged and published on Wednesday showed that the conservative opposition Law and Justice party led with 32 percent support.
The poll, by Millward Brown, put Tusk's centrist Civic Platform party at 25 percent, down from 28 percent in May, the last time the same pollster conducted a survey.
At Tusk's news conference, Monika Olejnik, one of Poland's best-known journalists, took the unusual step of publicly criticising Tusk over his government's response to the leaked tapes, especially the raid on the magazine.
"I don't know of any democratic state where the internal security service and prosecutors would enter somewhere using force," Olejnik told the prime minister.
"For this first time since 1989, it's come to pass that the whole journalistic community is against you Mr. Prime Minister, I'm sorry."
This month Poland marked the 25th anniversary of its overthrow of the communist regime and the first partly free elections. Celebrations were attended by U.S. President Barack Obama and France's President Francois Hollande, among others.
(Editing by Christian Lowe and Gareth Jones)