Gulf Today

Tusk seeks to cement grip on power in local elections


Poland holds local elections on Sunday, in what will be the first ballot box test for the parties comprising Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s pro-european coalition government since they ended nearly a decade of nationalis­t rule late last year. The three groupings that form the coalition are running on separate tickets, and analysts say the results that emerge from a campaign in which national issues such as abortion rights have loomed large will have ramificati­ons for the balance of power in the government. Tusk swept to power following a national election in October on promises to reverse democratic backslidin­g, boost the rights of women and minorities and repair ties with Poland’s Western allies that had become strained under the previous government.

Brussels is closely watching how Tusk’s coalition fares as it braces for European Parliament elections in June. Europe-wide opinion polls suggest the populist right will perform well. Tusk’s government has succeeded in unblocking billions of Euros in European Union funds that had been frozen over rule-of-lawconcern­sandhasals­olauncheds­weeping reforms of the courts and state media. However, it faces questions over the legality of some of its reforms, particular­ly those concerning the media, and criticism for not fulfilling a host of promises made before the election. Tusk says it is clear what is at stake on Sunday. “(The local elections) will be exactly as important as those of Oct. 15,” he told a rally in the southern city of Krakow. “If we do not win these elections, the trend may reverse.” Polls show a tight race between Tusk’s Civic Coalition (KO) and nationalis­t opposition party Law and Justice (PIS) for first place. A se cond round of voting in mayoral races will be held on April 21.

PIS came first in October’s parliament­ary election but lost its parliament­ary majority. Analysts say that if KO comes out on top this time it will cement the party’s position as a dominant force, both in the country and within the government. “The results of these elections will affect the balance of power within the ruling coalition... in terms of the staffing of various ministries, the political direction and so on,” said Rafal Chwedoruk, a political scientist at Warsaw University.

Divisions in the coalition have played out in the election campaign, particular­ly regarding the abortion issue. Parliament speaker Szymon Holownia angered many let-leaning Poles who support the ruling coalition of which his Catholic conservati­ve Third Way alliance is part when he delayed a debate on liberalisi­ng abortion laws till ater Sunday’s elections. “We should use our vote so that later... we will really have power over our own body,” Paulina Langner-bentkowska, a 28-year-old wedding planner, told Reuters at a Warsaw shopping centre.

These are sentiments which the Let, also part of the government, has sought to harness in a campaign that has focused heavily on women’s rights. “It is certainly true that in these local elections, what is happening at the central level is very much mixed with what is happening at the local level, also due to Speaker Holownia’s resistance to proceeding with bills about abortion,” said Magdalena Biejat, the Let’s candidate for Warsaw mayor. For PIS, the elections are also a key test for a party still coming to terms with losing power. Facing an uphill batle in the liberal-leaning capital, PIS candidate for Warsaw mayor Tobiasz Bochenski told Reuters he was targeting voters who wanted to see “dynamic developmen­t” in the city and who weren’t engaged in “ideologica­l disputes”.

PIS and its allies have a long history of factional conflict but they have become particular­ly intense of late as politician­s from the arch-conservati­ve Sovereign Poland, a junior partner in government from 2015 to 2023, and lawmakers close to former prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki clash over his record.

 ?? Donald Tusk ??
Donald Tusk
 ?? Mateusz Morawiecki ??
Mateusz Morawiecki

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