Home European News Local elections in Poland act as report card for Tusk government

Local elections in Poland act as report card for Tusk government

Local elections in Poland act as report card for Tusk government

Local government elections on Sunday (7 April) mark the first electoral test for Poland’s anti-populist coalition government chosen last October.

The polling marathon involves around 200,000 candidates, with a second round slated two weeks later for mayoral candidates who failed to win 50 percent of the votes cast.

Polish local elections have a logic of their own. They are complex multi-tier contests for city mayors, regional assemblies and thousands of local councils.

At this level of state governance the concerns of provincial leaders and citizens’ groups are distant from big issues at the national level, campaign promises concentrating on the down to earth and mundane. Posters and leaflets talk of roads and roundabouts, new schools and nurseries, local sports facilities and funding for local fire brigades. Nevertheless, national disputes do resonate in village halls.

Popularity contest

Sunday’s outcome will provide a rough tally of how the new government is managing a situation in which their predecessors from Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość/PiS) are fighting to retain the support of the 7.6 million people who voted for them last October.

This has meant relentless attacks by PiS on Donald Tusk, the leader of the centrist Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska), who is already struggling to manage tensions between coalition partners in the government from the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga) and the Left (Lewica) — who taken together won 11.6 million votes in the last election. Tusk is also facing determined farmers’ protests who are demanding major changes in the EU’s Green Deal and a ban on grain imports from Ukraine.

PiS’ mistake

Voter participation on Sunday is expected to be lower than the record 74.3 percent figure in the October national elections. Nonetheless, pollsters are predicting robust turnouts compared to previous local elections in Poland’s 17 regions.

PiS politicians believe they will do well in the election. The party claims that they have rebounded from a post-election dip in support and are now running head-to-head with Tusk’s Civic Platform, with both parties enjoying around 30 percent support.

But PiS, which has never won majorities in Poland’s big towns, are shaping up to win a just mere handful of the 107 mayoral posts. The ruling coalition is also likely to win control of more of Poland’s 17 regions than in previous elections, as the ruling coalition builds post-election majorities in regional assemblies.

Such a defeat would fulfil a prediction by Józef Orzeł, a PiS loyalist who wrote in Do Rzeczy, a pro PiS weekly magazine, that his party is making a mistake by placing its trust in die-hard supporters, thus risking a loss of the middle ground where elections are won.


Support for PiS should however hold up in the party’s strongholds. In the countryside and small towns, especially in eastern Poland where the Catholic Church, who are staunchly behind PiS, the party retains the trust of the population.

Mistrust of the new government — which is a constant theme of PiS propaganda — has been boosted by the widespread farmers protests which are supported by around three quarters of all Poles.

But their campaign has so far failed to produce a plan for the future of the provincial towns and the countryside in a centralised country where talented and ambitious young people continue to flee the provinces for Warsaw and other big cities, or emigrate.

Local is still local

Pułtusk, a town 60 kilometres northeast of Warsaw exemplifies this lack of vision. The town was founded in the 13th century, boasts the longest market place in Europe and about Napoleon fighting a battle with the Russians in the winter of 1806, nearby.

Currently the town sees the loyalties of its 20,000 inhabitants divided between PiS and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) which partners with the Third Way. There is little sign of support for Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition nor of the Left party in the town. The mayor Wojciech Gregorczyk from the PSL is running for a second term.

Mariusz Osica, his rival, is a PiS stalwart but his campaign has chosen to downplay this. Instead, he and his fellow candidates are billed as “Osica’s” team without any party affiliation. This kind of camouflage is a fairly common tactic used by PiS in this election. Osica’s leaflets stress that he has “active” solutions for the town’s problems but carry little detail as what the “active” really means.

Gregorczyk lacks charisma and is concentrating on defending his first term record. A local newspaper reports him explaining difficulties with maintaining the town beach on the local Narew river to voters.

The campaign in Pułtusk is typical of the scene in many other small Polish towns. It’s a far cry from the messaging of the national parties or the heated campaigns in key cities like Warsaw and Kraków.

But Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform and his coalition partners will be sifting through the results from small towns as well as the big regions and major cities as they craft their campaign for the European parliament in June.

For it is here that bedrock support for PiS is based and while that support stays in place, the populists will continue to pose a strong threat to the Tusk coalition government’s reforming agenda.


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