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