Polish opposition hopes local elections will turn the page – POLITICO
WARSAW – Mayor’s vote on Sunday in the city of Rzeszów in southeastern Poland will mark a turning point in the battle against the Law and Justice Party (PiS) – at least that’s what the Polish opposition hope.
The election is the “opposition’s first step to regain power”, Warsaw Mayor Rafaza Trzaskowski – the main opposition candidate in last year’s presidential election – mentionned in Rzeszów this week.
Polish opposition parties have suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the PiS since the right-wing party won national power in 2015.
Today, after more than a year of unprecedented health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the opposition believes it can reach Rzeszów – a town of 180,000 near the border with Ukraine – and gain momentum to push the PiS out of power across the country.
“The opposition wants Rzeszów’s vote to be a test of voters’ reaction to their participation in PiS,” said Renata Mieńkowska-Norkiene, political scientist at the University of Warsaw. “They see an opportunity similar to what happened, for example, in Budapest, where the opposition took the city of [the ruling party] Fidesz. Winning in Rzeszów could increase the pressure on PiS, at least to some extent. “
Rzeszów is a microcosm of Poland – a relatively liberal city surrounded by a deeply traditional countryside that forms the basis of political support for Law and Justice.
The election also says something about the state of Polish politics.
The generally rowdy opposition parties united behind a single candidate, Konrad Fijołek, 45, from Rzeszów. In contrast, the country’s ruling united right-wing coalition parties split and nominated rival candidates, a sign of tensions between the PiS and its two smaller coalition allies.
Warsaw is abuzz with rumors that the coalition could collapse, triggering early parliamentary elections.
This made Rzeszów an important indicator.
“I also hope that Rzeszów will mark the beginning of a return to full democracy and the real idea of autonomy”, Fijołek Told the Rzeczpospolita newspaper.
Municipal elections are taking place two years ahead of schedule after outgoing President Tadeusz Ferenc, 81, announced in February that he had decided to retire after a COVID-19 crisis.
Ferenc, a longtime political activist who cut his teeth in the Communist Party from the 1960s, was extremely popular in Rzeszów – winning four mayoral terms. He supports his former deputy Fijołek.
The strategy of bringing together almost all of the opposition forces seems to be working.
The last survey shows Fijołek with 47.6% – incredibly close to the 50% needed for a first round victory.
“By choosing Konrad Fijołek, you can show that the era of undemocratic rule is coming to an end, you can express your objection to politics based on manipulation, lies and opposition between people,” said Trzaskowski, mayor of the Warsaw opposition.
PiS candidate Ewa Leniart only gets 24.1% of the polls. Lawyer and current governor of the province of Rzeszów, she is supported by the high-ranking officers of her camp: party president Jarosław Kaczyński and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
“People [of Rzeszów] know that my intention is nothing more than to work for the good of the city and its development ”, Leniart Told the weekly Sieci.
However, the right-wing vote is divided. Marcin Warchoł, candidate of the United Poland party, junior member of the ruling coalition, occupies fourth place with 11.8%.
In third place is Grzegorz Braun with the far-right Confederation opposition party with 13.3%.
Even if he doesn’t win in the first round, Fijołek will be a big favorite in a second round – which will take place on June 27, if no candidate wins more than half of the votes on Sunday.
United Poland has been a troublemaker in the central government coalition. He declined to support the ratification of the EU pandemic stimulus fund, fearing it would lead to further European integration and public debt pooling within the EU.
Kaczyński tries to downplay the importance of municipal elections. “This vote is really not part of a political battle taking place in Poland, it is simply a vote for Rzeszów,” he said.
However, the opposition will aim to make the most of a Fijołek victory.
“The opposition has a chance to make Rzeszów bigger than it really is by selling its possible victory to counter PiS patronage,” said Radosław Markowski, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at the ‘SWPS University of Warsaw. “The PiS said its candidate has good relations in Warsaw. So, if she loses, will Rzeszów suddenly fall from Warsaw’s graces? ”