Jan Cienski in Warsaw -
Sunday’s local elections were supposed to be a chastening experience for Poland’s ruling Civic Platform party, which had slipped in opinion polls and appeared to be tired and out of ideas. But instead, a revitalised party led by a new chief appears likely to eke out a win over the scandal-plagued opposition Law and Justice party.
If that happens, it will mark the eighth victory in a row for Civic Platform (PO) over Law and Justice (PiS), which has been unable to regain traction ever since losing the 2007 parliamentary election.
The crucial change in PO’s fortunes came with the elevation of former prime minister Donald Tusk to the EU’s top job, president of the European Council, and his replacement by Ewa Kopacz. The new government leader had a few missteps in late September, but has since found her footing and is an increasingly confident party head.
PO regained its lead in opinion polls after Tusk’s departure; Poles were evidently tired of a prime minister in office for a record seven years.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Law and Justice, has had a difficult time combatting Kopacz. He is an aggressive politician who had spent much of his time attacking Tusk. But the confirmed bachelor is awkward around women, either favouring them with old-world hand-kisses or else putting down their abilities – neither approach has worked with Kopacz.
PiS has also been saddled with a damaging scandal just days before the vote. Three of the party’s prominent MPs – self-described as “young wolves” – immolated themselves in a messy expense scandal. They claimed mileage expenses for driving to a parliamentary conference in Madrid, but instead flew there on a discount airline and pocketed the difference. They have been tossed from the party, but have tarnished its claims to be a party of law-abiding conservatives.
“This whole affair is very shameful for us,” said Mariusz Kaminski, the party’s deputy leader (who coincidentally has exactly the same name as one of the fired MPs) in a television interview.
A new survey of surveys finds that Civic Platform overtook PiS in late September and has held on to its lead since then. A breakdown of the possible vote in Poland’s 17 regions also finds that PO holds a narrow lead over PiS, leading by 39% to 36% and is likely to control nine regions outright while PiS will probably rule in five. The rest will be held by coalitions.
Sunday’s election also sees votes for municipal governments, and little change is expected in the country’s largest cities. There, mayors who have been in charge for the last decade are almost all expected to stay in power. Most have built strong local party machines, and have cemented their position thanks to the flood of EU funds over the last 10 years which have transformed Polish cities.
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