KASZEWSKA WOLA, Poland — When the European Union condemned Poland’s government for demonizing gays and lesbians, the country’s governing coalition defiantly stood together. When state media was accused of spreading hate speech that fueled violence, the governing parties brushed off concerns. And when protests erupted against efforts to control the judicial system, they pressed ahead regardless.
Then came the minks.
Proposed legislation that would ban the farming of minks, semiaquatic mammals prized for their fur, and put in place a range of protections for other animals, opened deep divisions in the coalition that almost brought down the government.
It took the intervention of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the dominant Law and Justice Party, to quell the uprising for now by taking on a formal role that allowed him to act as a buffer between opposing factions.
The bill, which gained momentum after a documentary aired on Polish television showing minks living in deplorable conditions on one farm, has widespread public support and the leaders of the country’s foremost opposition party support the legislation.
But the conservative governing coalition is divided over the issue, waging increasingly furious internal battles at a time when the nation is consumed with the coronavirus. All that has raised questions about the long-term viability of the government.
In the face of those concerns, Mr. Kaczynski, the most powerful politician in Poland and the architect of the government’s agenda, stepped in Tuesday to be sworn in as deputy prime minister after five years of ruling from behind the scenes.
Apart from separating feuding coalition partners, one of his main tasks will be trying to grow public support for the Law and Justice Party, whose candidate for president, Andrzej Duda, only managed a narrow election victory in July.
It will be a difficult challenge since Mr. Kaczynski has been the driving force behind efforts by his party to marginalize the L.G.B.T. community, a campaign that has turned off many young voters. And his government has spent years at war with the European Union, despite broad support in Poland for membership in the bloc, especially among the generation born after the end of communist rule in 1989.
The government also has a dismal record on environmental issues — from logging in the country’s ancient forests to failing to curb a reliance on coal.
But in championing animal rights, Mr. Kaczynski sees an opportunity.
“This is a pivotal moment for the party,” said Wojciech Przybylski, the editor in chief of Visegrad Insight, a policy journal focused on Central Europe. Mr. Kaczynski, he said, knows he needs to expand his political base to include younger, more moderate voters by sending “a message of concern about nature and animals.”
The issue also seems personal for Mr. Kaczynski, who has long been known for his affection for animals. When his beloved cat, Alik, died, it was national news. The 71-year-old, who shuns nearly all requests for interviews outside of supportive media outlets, even went on TikTok to post a video promoting the