By Maciej Onoszko and Pawel Sobczak
WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's ruling coalition should hold together, the leader of its junior partner said, contradicting speculation he would withdraw support and bring down the prime minister before the next election due in 2015.
The coalition is in its second term in power, an unprecedented achievement in Poland's fractious politics, but a sharp slowdown in the economy has put it under strain. Financial markets trust Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his fall could scare some investors.
Waldemar Pawlak, head of the Polish Peasants Party (PSL), which partners Tusk's Civic Platform (PO) in government, held meetings with opposition parties this week, leading some commentators to ask if he was thinking of defecting.
But Pawlak, who also serves as deputy prime minister and economy minister, told Reuters in an interview those meetings were about government business, not political plots.
"I do not see too much political risk for the coalition's future, also taking into account the good experiences we've had to date," he said when asked whether the coalition would survive until the next election.
"My talks to opposition parties created space for an all-party agreement on issues such as shale gas exploration, for instance, and creating stable conditions for decades to come," he said in the interview late on Wednesday.
Opinion polls show Tusk's party has come under pressure from the main opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), and needs to find a way to persuade Poles it is best placed to tackle the economic slowdown.
Poland's economy will slow to growth of 2.1 percent next year, the central bank forecasts, still healthy by the standards of its European neighbors but a big drop for a country that last year grew more than twice as fast.
On Friday, Tusk will make a speech in parliament outlining his government's policy goals for the rest of the term, with the focus on its response to the economic downturn.
Even though there is no obvious political alternative to the ruling alliance and the opposition is not much trusted by financial markets, falling popularity over the economy may make it harder for Tusk to keep the coalition together.
It has a thin four-seat majority in parliament and the collapse of coalitions and early elections are a familiar story in the two decades since Poland swapped communism for democracy.
While Tusk needs to maintain popular support, the country also needs to convince financial markets that he is not about to break with a decade of relatively prudent budget policy.
Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, a senior aide to Tusk, said in a radio interview on Thursday that the prime minister might surprise public opinion by announcing measures to prop up investment.
(Editing by Christian Lowe and; Anthony Barker)