Poland - gains for the opposition in local elections

Law and Justice

Poland's main opposition parties were celebrating this week following gains in local government elections. But changes at the national level do not seem likely with the conservatives and pro-business liberals continuing to dominate the political landscape.

Local elections are usually seen as opinion polls on the performance of the government rather than a vote on local issues. The Polish elections were therefore the first major test for the conservative Law and Justice since its victory in the national elections over a year ago. The vote was also a verdict on the ruling coalition between the conservatives and two small parties, the leftist Self-Defense and the rightist League of Polish Families. The results show that the Law and Justice has lost some urban voters but did reasonably well in the smaller towns and rural areas. Its two coalition partners did very poorly, whereas the opposition Civic Platform managed to grab many councils in large cities. According to Matthew Day of Poland Monthly, the coalition should be fairly content with the outcome.

'If they haven't suffered terrible losses the coalition can walk away reasonably content. However, they haven't scored a victory and there are question marks about them. The fact that the opposition don't appear to be revelling in a massive victory as well as, that means there are question marks for them as well. So both sides can take positives and negatives from the result.'

The opposition did not muster enough support to put Jaroslaw Kaczynski's government at risk but its good performance in big cities has given it a psychological boost in the confrontation with the conservatives. Indepedenent commentator Robert Strybel.

'It a slight tilt towards the Civic Platform. They looked fresh while PiS [the conservatives] have already done things that upset many people or they haven't done things which they'd promised to do. So it's a slight tilt in favour of the Civic Platform.'

Can we talk therefore of winners in Poland's local government elections? Marcin Sobczyk of Interfax Central Europe believes there are two.

'One is the pro-business Civic Platform which managed to grab many councils in large cities which is quite symptomatic. When you look at regional governing bodies this party is also very strong, stronger than the conservative Law and Justice. The other winner is the new centre-left grouping which is emerging; it's not yet fully formed.'

The centre-left brings together ex-communists and former anti communist dissidents. Their candidate in Warsaw Marek Borowski came third but did extremely well, receiving over 22 percent of the vote. Another surprising outcome of the elections is a relatively high turnout. It exceeded 45 percent and in some cities, including Warsaw, was over 52 percent, a far better result than four years ago. According to Marcin Sobczyk of Interfaxt Central Europe this is a very positive sign.

'Major political parties are wrong in saying that the society is tired of politics, that it's not interested. It shows that Polish society is interested in politics, both in central and local politics. Another reason why the turnout is so high is that central politics has become extremely divisive. You have at least two major parties and the third that is quite strong with opinions taken to extremes and definitely people wanted to have their say in what they saw as a very important political battle.'

The battle will continue in the second round of voting on November 26 in all those towns where no candidate for president or mayor received over 50 percent of the vote. Warsaw is one of them. Law and Justice's Former Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcikiewicz defeated Civic Platform's Hanna Gronkiewicz Waltz by a narrow margin and it looks it'll be another close race between them.