Exploring Local Elections’ Results in Poland

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On October 21, 2018, Polish people elected their local and regional representatives who will lead the communities for next five years (it was fours in previous terms). The election results are very difficult to label as a clear victory of the government or the clear victory of the opposition but a few reflections can be drown here.

PiS Still Most Popular Party – But Has Only 6 Regions

Local and regional elections are difficult to compare with the previous 2015 general elections (and PiS’s victory) since in many places races fully focused on local problems, with local parties and prominent local figures. The only results that are kind of a national indicator are elections to 16 regional assemblies (sejmik). And here the results are as follows:

  • PiS (Law and Justice)- 34,29%
  • KO (Civic Platform & Nowoczesna’s Civic Coalition)- 27,1%
  • PSL (Peoplish People’s Party, agrarian)- 12,13%
  • SLD (Left Democratic Alliance)- 6,56%
  • Kukiz’15- 5,65%
  • BS (Independent Local Politics)- 5,3%
  • Wolność (ultraconservative libertarian, eurosceptic)- 1,6%
  • Razem (radical left)- 1,58%

PiS kept its leader’s position, Civic Coalition was second and PSL third. Even though the PSL lost half ot its voters (four years ago its result was over 23% of votes), more people voted for KO and PSL than for PiS which is a good sign for 2019 general elections.

In terms of seats (in all 16 regional assemblies together) the results are as follows:

  • PiS- 254 seats
  • KO- 194 seats
  • PSL- 70 seats
  • BS- 15 seats
  • SLD- 11 seats
  • *German Minority- 5 seats
  • *Dutkiewicz for Lower Silesia- 2 seats
  • *Wenta’s Projekt: Świętokrzyskie- 1 seat

*Three bottom results are seats won by parties that are strong in only one region

Clearly, the d’Hondt method of allocating seats is preferable for the winner, and big parties in general. From this perspective we could stress a few conclusions.

First of all, Civic Coalition was a success. If Civic Platform and Nowoczesna were running separately they would lose some 40 seats nationwide, 40 seats that could have given PiS majority in a few additional regions. Because of the alliance the liberal Nowoczesna won 31 seats compared to 11 seats of SLD and zero seats of Kukiz’15.

The latter example is very symptomatic – a party that got almost 6% of votes will not have a single representative. If PSL or SLD had joined the Civic Coalition there would be high chances for mineralizing the seat difference between the ruling party and the democratic opposition.

PiS won in nine regions and KO in seven regions. Typically PiS won in the East and KO in the West. Lower Sielsia being the only exception of an western voivodship won by PiS. PiS will have absolute majority in six regions, KO in coalition with PSL and SLD in eight of them. The only question mark today is Lower Silesia and Western Pomerania where the so called independents from BS are kingmakers and both big blocks are negotiating a deal with them.

There are confirmed rumors from these regions where the difference between PiS and the KO-PSL is very small that PiS is trying to corrupt newly elected council members to join PiS-majority by offering well paid positions in state-owned companies.

Cities Taken by KO

The liberal-centrist opposition mobilized its core supporters in urban areas winning high profile mayoral races.

KO was particularly buoyed by its surprisingly easy victory in the capital, the most prestigious and high profile contest which developed into a major strategic battleground between the government and opposition and set the tone for the campaign more generally.

Here the KO contender Rafał Trzaskowski won with 56% of the vote in spite of the energetic campaign run by deputy justice minister Patryk Jaki, his Law and Justice-backed opponent. Jaki got only 28% of votes.

Mobilization

The turn-out in the first round reached 55% and it was the highest in the history of Polish local elections.

Polish local elections normally see a higher turnout in small towns and rural areas, where PiS enjoys strong support. This time, however, many voters in cities appear to have been mobilized by the fact that these elections were presented by both blocks and media as a plebiscite on the ruling party’s transformative but highly controversial and polarizing programme of socio-economic and institutional reforms.

Many commentators see the mobilization of centrist urban voters as a consequence of the last week of PiS campaign. It looked like PiS panicked and trying to mobilize their core voters, also mobilized voters of KO.

On October 17, PiS released a new commercial, one that was far more reminiscent of the previous campaign. It imagined what Poland would look like in 2020 should the opposition come to power and push a pro-immigrant agenda. Violence, rioting on the streets and the total dissolution of Polish society was what the ad envisaged.

The advertisement was met with disbelief, even from the far right. Krzysztof Bosak, one of the leaders of the anti-immigrant National Movement, tweeted that this was “disgusting, cynical, mean and stupid propaganda”. But regular voters simply wondered what the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, and its images from 2015, had to do with local elections.

Also, the topic of Polexit became present in public debate since the justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro had asked the constitutional tribunal whether Polish judges had the right to refer queries on the interpretation of EU law to the European Court of Justice.

Although PiS accused the opposition of manipulation, and denied vehemently that it had any plans to leave the EU, the KO argued that undermining the EU treaties in this way could be a precursor to de facto Polexit.

The discussion was further ignited when, on the final day of campaigning, the European Court of Justice issued a preliminary injunction ordering the immediate suspension of the supreme court law’s early retirement provisions until it could hear the Commission’s case.

Additionally, shortly before the last week of the campaign private conversation of PM Mateusz Morawiecki with businessmen were published. After examining 40 volumes of court documents regarding the 2014 publication of tapes of private dinner conversations between politicians and businessmen, website Onet.pl said that it found statements by restaurant waiters who secretly taped Morawiecki, at the time the chief executive officer of Bank Santander SA’s Polish unit. They damaged the image of the popular Prime Minister.

Second Round

The second round of the mayors elections was organized on November 4 in 649 municipalities where none of the candidates got more than 50% of votes. The turn-out was significantly lower, only 48% (still higher than four years ago). It was a clear victory of the opposition who won in all big cities.

The biggest city where PiS candidate won in Chełm, a town of 63.000 inhabitants.

In all five most interesting races PiS candidates were ignominiously defeated.

In Kraków Jacek Majchrowski from KO got 62% of votes and Małgorzata Wassermann from PiS 38%.

In Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz, independent (ex-PO), got 65% of votes and PiS’s Kacper Płażyński 35%.

In Kielce PO MEP Bogdan Wenta won against Mayor Wojciech Lubawski with prortion of votes 61:39.

And in Radom Radosław Witkowski supported by the KO got 53% of votes and Wojciech Skurkiewicz from PiS only 47%.

In Szczecin independent Mayor Piotr Krzystek defeated PiS’s candidate with 78% of votes.

And the Liberals?

For the liberals from Nowoczesna it was first ever regional and municipal election. Strategic decision to create common lists with Civic Platform was a big success. Nowoczesna débuts in regional assemblies with 31 councilors, with gives it fourth position in the country, after PiS, PO and PSL.

Nowoczesna’s result should be also seen compared with SLD and Kukiz’15 so two parties that got 2015 general election slightly better results than the liberal new comer. Now SLD will have three times less councilors than Nowoczesna, and Kukiz’15 will remain with no representation on the regional level. 31 seats will give Nowoczesna the power to participate in regional coalitions in more than half of voivodships.

The success of Nowoczesna is even more visible in big cities. In Warsaw’s city council Nowoczesna will be third biggest party and Paweł Rabiej will become deputy mayor of the Poland’s capital city. Similarly, good results of Nowoczesna city council candidates will result with liberal deputy mayors in various locations, including Poznań, or smaller Kalisz.

Nowoczesna candidates became mayors in a few cities and towns. The biggest success is Jacek Sutryk’s victory in the first round in Wrocław, fifth largest Polish city, or Mariusz Wołosz in Bytom, city in Silesia of 180.000 inhabitants. One the leaders of Nowoczesna Youth became the youngest mayors in Poland, namely 27-years old Paweł Czuliński.

Local and regional elections were a good test before 2019 European and general elections, giving hopes for good liberal and center representations and chances of removing PiS from power.


The analysis will be published in the October issue of the “From Poland with Love” Newsletter published monthly by Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit: https://fnf-europe.org/?s=from+poland+with+love

Milosz Hodun
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