Poland’s nationalists face key test in local election

Warsaw: Poles vote on Sunday in local elections seen as a key test for the country’s controversial nationalist governing party as it gears up for EU and legislative elections next year.
Since winning an unprecedented majority in 2015, the Law and Justice (PiS) party has been on a collision course with the EU over a series of judicial reforms that critics say pose a threat to democracy.
The PiS insists however that the reforms tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by Poland’s communist era.
“The elections are a test for the major parties in large cities and regional councils ahead of the European elections (in May) and next year’s parliamentary elections,” Stanislaw Mocek, a political scientist with Poland’s Academy of Sciences, said.
Riding a wave of popularity driven by robust economic growth and generous social spending, the PiS stands to make gains in regional councils but is unlikely to dominate them.
Despite coming out on top in a poll published on Friday by the SuperExpress tabloid daily, the results suggest PiS would win an average 34 per cent of the vote in the local councils — but not enough to govern alone in any of the regions.
The survey was conducted on a regional basis by the Pollster agency on Wednesday and Thursday on a random sample of 1,086. It also registered 24 per cent voter support for a liberal and centrist coalition and 12 per cent support for independents.
PiS voters see the party, especially its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, as a brave defender of national interests.
But critics of the PiS’s disputed judicial reforms insist they are unconstitutional and pose the greatest threat to democracy in Poland since it shed communism. Recent polls also suggest that the PiS has a slim chance of winning in cities during two rounds of voting that starts this Sunday and ends on November 4. Senior PiS figures such as Kaczynski and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki have travelled the country in recent weeks to bolster local candidates.
Younger PiS politicians Patryk Jaki and Malgorzata Wasserman are leading the charge against liberal and left-leaning candidates in the capital Warsaw and in Krakow.
Jaki, just 33, is currently Poland’s deputy justice minister. His campaign for an “honest and ambitious Warsaw” targets outgoing liberal Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who has been dogged by allegations of corruption in the reprivatisation
of Warsaw properties confiscated by the communist regime after World War II. — AFP