Poland's local elections test Tusk's new government after 4 months in power

Voters across Poland are casting ballots in local elections in what is the first electoral test for the coalition government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, nearly four months after taking power

Vanessa Gera
Sunday 07 April 2024 06:02 BST

Voters across Poland are casting ballots in local elections Sunday in the first electoral test for the coalition government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk nearly four months since it took power.

Voters will elect mayors as well as members of municipal councils and provincial assemblies, an important exercise in self-governance that is one of the great achievements of the democratic transformation that Poland made when it threw off communism 35 years ago.

In all there are nearly 190,000 registered candidates running for local government positions in the central European nation of 38 million people.

Runoff votes will must take place two weeks later, on April 21, in cases where mayoral candidates do not win at least 50% of the vote in Sunday's first round.

Opinion polls released in the days ahead of the vote showed the two largest political formations running neck-and-neck: Tusk's Civic Coalition, an electoral coalition led by his centrist and pro-European Union Civic Platform party, and Law and Justice, a national conservative party that governed the country from 2015 until last year.

Several other groups trail the two main groups, including the Third Way coalition, the Left and the radical right-wing Confederation party.

Tusk's coalition government, which includes the Third Way and the Left, together won the national election in October. The result amid record turnout spelled the end for eight bumpy years of rule by Law and Justice, which was accused by the European Union of violating democratic standards with its changes to the judicial system and public media.

Tusk won on promises to reverse many of those changes and is trying to implement that program, but it isn't easy. His attempts to restore independence to the judicial system are a long process that will require the passage of new legislation.

And a promise to liberalize the strict abortion law is being hampered by conservatives in Tusk’s own coalition.

The vote is also a test for Law and Justice, which had a string of electoral victories and dominated the political scene for years, enjoying strong support in conservative rural areas. However, its hard-line policies on LGBTQ+ and its restriction of abortion rights were rejected by many of the young and female voters who turned out in October to vote.

Local governments have played an important role in the two major crises of recent years, rolling out vaccinations against COVID-19 and helping the huge numbers of Ukrainian refugees who arrived in the country after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Among those running is Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, a Tusk ally who is seeking a second term. He is favored to win, but it is not clear if he could win outright Sunday or would need to face a runoff in two weeks.

The outgoing term of office for local officials was the longest since 1989 after Law and Justice extended it from four to five years, and then delayed the elections by half a year, worried that holding local elections along with those to the national parliament would hurt its chances.

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