Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Local Election Results – All to Play for in 2011

Last weekend's local elections have produced no major shocks although they do suggest that the dominance of the two parties from the right – PO and PiS – is weakening.

For the fifth election in a row PO emerged as the strongest party, with PiS relegated to second place. However, as shown in the table below, PO 's vote fell considerably from the more than 40% it gained in the 2007 parliamentary elections, although they scored a higher vote than that achieved in the last local elections in 2006. Likewise, support for PiS has dropped by nearly 10% since the parliamentary elections and is slightly down from the last local elections. The major success story of the elections was PSL, who increased its vote significantly from the parliamentary elections and the last local elections. The SLD has kept its vote stable, managing to just cross the 15% mark and raise its support from 2006 and 2007.

As mentioned in previous posts Polish politics has been hegemonised by PO and PiS – two competing parties from the conservative right. Prior to this year's presidential elections it was widely predicted that the SLD could disappear from the political scene – but this election confirms that it has managed to stabilize itself as a party with significant although minority electoral support. Also in recent months PSL has seen itself fall below the 5% threshold in the opinion polls, and therefore this result represents a great success for the party and confirms it as a permanent player in Polish politics. It is interesting to note how SLD and PSL are the only two parties that have existed throughout the whole of the post-communist transition (although the SLD have undergone some cosmetic metamorphoses). Their continual existence is partly due to the fact that they are both 'successors' from parties that existed during communism and the structure, property, activists and local social support has maintained them throughout the past two decades. This is particularly evident in the case of PSL – who maintain a network and structure that is particularly beneficial in local elections.

Despite recent problems for PO and PiS it is clear that they will be competing for power in next year's parliamentary elections, with PSL and SLD vying to become the king-maker in the next coalition government. PiS in particular have suffered turbulent times in the past few weeks, with a number of MPs leaving the party and attempting to create a new political party. As well as seeing its overall vote decline, PiS was only able to win in two local districts – Podkarpackie and Lubelskie and Świętokrzyskie, bastions of PiS situated in the South-East of the country. Despite its defeats, the decline in support for PiS does not as yet represent a terminal decline for the party and its is still well placed to challenge PO in next year's parliamentary elections.

Although support for PO declined they again emerged from an election as the largest party and now hold power at a local, national, presidential and European level. However, the party is showing signs of strain as it comes towards the end of its first term in office and ahead of it lies a difficult year as it tries to steer a clear path towards the parliamentary elections without making too many unpopular decisions. It now seems unlikely that it will be able to win an overall majority at the next parliamentary elections and if it may find that it will be forced to form a coalition government with either PSL or SLD. The former has shown itself to be no pushover for PO in the present coalition government, as shown recently by the complaints made by the Minister of Labour Jolanta Fedak (from PSL) over the private pension system. This will cause more difficulties for PO, who are having to take a careful pragmatic approach to socio-economic policy, when many in the party would prefer it to deepen its neo-liberal course. Possible negotiations with the SLD would offer even more difficulties for PO and potentially open up divisions within PO. The choices facing the SLD after these elections will be discussed in the next post. One thing is clear: those who want to vote against PiS no longer have to feel that they must support PO. There are other options on offer.

A final point to consider is how the Presidents in most of the major cities (many of whom were independent candidates) were easily re-elected, often without the need of a second round. This phenomenon can largely be explained by the positive effect of EU money coming into Poland that has allowed local governments to carry out large investment programmes. Most of the EU funded investment projects have gone through local governments. Therefore local populations have seen the positive results of these, through new roads, renovated pavements, newly built stadiums, etc. This is a refreshing change to national politics that has been dominated by 'talking heads' arguing about issues generally removed from the everyday lives of 'ordinary citizens'. These EU funds have only been gained through local governments spending large sums themselves and partly funding these investment projects. It is of course imperative that this money is spent now, in order to fully realise the available EU money, which may not be available after 2013. For this reason it is irresponsible of the Finance Minister, Jacek Rostowski, to criticise local governments for allowing their debt to rise and targeting them as being responsible for the country's rising public debt. Such statements make a farce of PO's ludicrous election slogan: 'We Don't Do Politics' (Nie Róbmy Polityki).

Local and Parliamentary Elections (% Vote Cast)

2006 Local Elections

2007 Parliamentary Elections

2010 Local Elections


















  1. I didn't promise comments last night but will make them nonetheless:)
    I disagree the PO's result was so tragic. As you know, one cannot compare national election results to local ones since so many other factors are in play. A discussion of the disconnect between the national parliament and local representation is for another time, but one can also look at the 47% turnout to see part of the PO's problem. I'm not trying to say they don't face problems -- they do. But this election result was not a great indicator of that.
    I also disagree that the PSL's success was major. It marks only a 2-3 pp gain on 2006. It also comes as PiS was riddled with infighting but there was little place else for disgruntled voters that would vote for PiS to go. The PSL likewise always does well in local elections but squeaks by in national elections. Though I don't feel it was "major," I do think it was a success for Pawlak as a bad result could easily have seen his leadership contested. If PJN is actually formed and can poll around 5%, I think the PSL will be in trouble.
    As for the SLD, if you look back at all election results from 2005, you will see the party gets 11-15%. Thus, the 2010 local elections are merely part of the trend, not any sort of outlier.
    I don't think PiS is well placed to challenge the PO in next year's election. On the contrary, it couldn't be worse off considering the PO-PSL's past 3 years has not exactly marked stellar govt and the PO's core electorate is grumbling. The PJN could also be a real problem for PiS since to avoid losing the moderate rightist voters they will have to tack to the centre, though that would then risk alienating the Rydzyk crew. I think PiS is in fact poorly placed, something the local elections showed. An aside would be I think Ziobro will do whatever he can to make sure PiS gets hammered as part of his continued attempt to take over.
    Another way to think about how badly PiS is doing is to think about the fact that in 2006 PiS, the LPR and Samoobrona scored something like 35% support. It is widely known that PiS hoovered up the other two parties, taking over their electorate. Thus, PiS's actual result of 23% is a disaster and marks a 12-pp decline for this type of voter.
    "Deepen the PO's neo-liberal course"? Which precise decisions since 2007 could really be described as "neo-liberal"? Retirement bridging is one. But I can't think of any others. In fact, I think the PO's precise problem, as seen in carping from Rybinski, Balcerowicz and many commentators, is that they haven't done anything liberal and have instead traded in the sort of poplist pandering that Polish political parties do so well.
    As for Rostowski's comments, they refer rather to the contradiction at the heart of Polish and EU policy. The EU demands that Poland cut its general government deficit to 3% of GDP by 2012 from 7.9% this year. So, Rostowski is merely fingerpointing since local government debt-taking has indeed caused much of the problem. But I agree overall it is ridiculous to make Poland gun for some sort of artificial debt and deficit targets on the back of the worst economic crisis since the 30s and considering this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Poland to spend hugely. I'm agraid the 2014-2010 EU budgetary perspective will be much stingier.
    Let the discussion begin:)

  2. Hi Scott, cheers for the comment.

    Well I agree with a lot you say and don't think some of it differs from what I wrote. PO won their 5th election in a row and are clearly established as the governing party in Poland. Problem is with the decline of PiS they are finding it difficult to take the negative vote and I can't see them getting an overall majority next year which is their aim. PiS are in decline but have not collapsed. PSL and SLD have established themselves as the minor parties and PSL will be happy considering the support they were getting in the opinion polls a few months ago.

    PO have a problem that they will probably have to govern again with PSL and/or SLD after the next election. They are putting off the real painful reforms until after this election and they will have more difficulties when in a coalition. The liberal economic reforms that they have so-far introduced include freezing public sector pay, reducing funds for fighting unemployment, raising VAT and not returning to a more progressive tax system and the 'bridging' tax reforms'. I agree that this is a drop in the ocean compared to what Balcerowicz and his groupies would like - see my article 'the delusions of Polish Thatcherites'

  3. Two things most liberal foreign watchers of Poland want: a PO majority govt and reforms to put Poland's public finances on more stable ground. But neither is likely. I believe that even in the unlikely event the PO wins outright, they will still not reform. Winning elections is the goal
    As for the reforms, I most took issue with the usage of "neo-liberal." This refers to a very specific set of reforms that the PO simply isn't doing. They have in general not backed supply-side measures on the belief things will trickle down or put their reputation on an expansionary fiscal contraction. A VAT hike is not part of the package imo. Instead, no reform to social spending has been done and the system remains hugely unfair to mostly poor working-class families to the benefit of coddled farmers and pensioners and military. It remains unfair to the 27mn people that actually pay income tax or to the 15mn people that work.
    Anyway, I'll check out the other post. I'm no Reaganite or Thatcherite but I have a feeling we don't see eye to eye on the issues:)

  4. I take the point about neo-liberal. It tends to be a term thrown about by the left against things they don't like. I would certainly accept that I've done this myself sometimes.

    It is a form of supply side economics - although not the only one. Large state investment is also another form. I would also say that the term neo-liberal was more suited to the pre-crisis era. Then taxes could be kept low for all, financial instruments liberalised and the money flowed. Nowadays it is more about shifting wealth from one section of society to another in order to pay for the crisis (someone will have to pay). In Poland they have kept taxes for the wealthy low, raised VAT (i.e. a regressive tax), increased privatisation and cut elements of social spending. In Ireland, run by neo-liberals, taxes are being raised for the majority but kept low for business and the rich. Perhaps not so neo-liberal as neo-conservative?

  5. I think both neo-liberal and neo-conservative are super loaded terms that mark what you said just above: catch-all pejorative terms designed to designate anyone a self-avowed leftist doesn't like. They don't actually carry much money by themsevles. Or, if neo-con or neo-liberal doesn't actually definte too much in the sense of policy consistency and adds a lot of baggage in terms of supposed social policy positions, what's the point of creating a label.
    Anyway, I agree someone has to pay and it is taxpayers, not the banks, not the other financial institutions. Direct income taxes may be low in Poland, but income taxes plus payroll taxes are not low by any means. I also find it really hard to see how low-income Poles have been made much worse off by a government that simply has by and large shied away from reforming social policy or lowering transfers. Some slight spending cuts have been done, but nothing great.
    As for privatisation, the term is actually a misnomer for what the government has been doing. State asset sales is a term closer to the truth. The government has not given up control nearly at all but has been able to reduce borrowing, thereby lesseneing the chance public debt will cross 55% of GDP. If it were to cross that level and trigger automatic revenue hikes and spending cuts, the less well-off would definitely be hurt the most.
    As for economic policy, I take it you believe the more state spending, the better?


Go for it - but if its abusive then it gets blocked