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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » October 29, 2002
POLITICS
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Maintaining an Election
October 29, 2002   
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Poles elected new local authorities Oct. 27. For the first time, they cast their ballots for county administrators and mayors in a direct system.

According to unofficial information, the turnout at the elections was 35-40 percent. It seems most likely that the second round of the mayoral elections, planned for Nov. 10, will take place in at least 12 large cities, including Warsaw.

�On the whole, the elections were conducted in a good atmosphere,
Warsaw Mayoral candidate Lech Kaczynski
Warsaw Mayoral candidate
Lech Kaczynski
peacefully and without any significant problems," said Jan Kacprzak, deputy chairman of the State Election Commission (PKW), at a press conference.

As The Warsaw Voice went to print, there were no preliminary results. In the case of local elections, exit polls are impossible. A representative of the PKW said that the Commission would first announce the official results of the voting for county administrators and mayors, scheduled for Oct. 31. The results of the elections for commune and county councils and for province assemblies will be known a week later.

The results would have been announced sooner if not for flaws in computer software, the application of which has cost the PKW zl.24.5 million. The software was supposed to facilitate the counting of votes and make it possible to send the results electronically.
Prime Minister Leszek Miller says that the low turnout was influenced by recent incidents in the Sejm- the last session before the elections was interrupted and eventually came to a close after deputies of the League of Polish Families (LPR) and the Samoobrona blocked the podium.

�These are very important elections, as local governments are one of the pillars of the Polish state," said President Aleksander Kwaśniewski as he cast his ballot. Kwaśniewski said that the decision to create local governments had been made very quickly after the transformations of 1989 and that �it was an enormously wise decision." Thanks to local authorities, �Polish democracy has developed, people have taken on more responsibility, they make decisions and more people participate in exercising power at various levels," the president said. �Local governments will play an important role in relations with the European Union."

Asked whether the direct election of mayors and county administrators was a good idea, Kwaśniewski said that he was a huge advocate of direct elections. �But we will be able to evaluate it all in an around two years' time, when we see the relations between mayors and councils," he said. Kwaśniewski also said that the experiment would not be a success if work in the local authorities was blocked. This might occur in situations where a mayor is in conflict with the city council.

Former Polish President Lech Wałęsa also said the elections were very important. In his opinion, local elections are the first step to learning the principles of democracy. He compared them to swimming. �You won't learn it from books or advisers," Wałęsa said. �You have to experience it yourself. At one time you will get cheated, at another disappointed, sometimes you will make a mistake or get robbed. Still, in this way you will gradually learn to stay alert... and tomorrow you will make the right choices."
Great interest surrounded the first direct elections for the mayor of Warsaw. According to commentators, many politicians treat this post as a step to reaching the highest position in the country in the presidential elections of 2005. Opinion polls conducted before the elections showed that Varsovians lent the greatest support to Lech Kaczyński, former minister of justice in the government of Jerzy Buzek. The candidate of Law and Justice (PiS) said during election night that he was expecting a victory in the first round.

Kaczyński would also like his party to win in the elections for the Council of Warsaw, as �it would have a symbolic meaning."
Kaczyński's two most serious competitors had equal chances. On the day of the elections, Warsaw's politicians of the Civic Platform (PO), including the present mayor of Warsaw Wojciech Kozak, were convinced that their candidate, Andrzej Olechowski, would make it to the second round. The other candidate, senator Marek Balicki, put up by the Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union (SLD-UP) coalition, did not want to speculate on who would compete in the second round. He said at a press conference after the campaign that he was not �worrying about the results."

Taking the pre-election opinion polls into consideration, one can expect that there will be a second round in Warsaw, where Kaczyński will run against one of the two competitors. The first unofficial information suggests that the second round of mayoral elections will take place in at least 12 large cities. After the first round, the situation remains unresolved in Gdańsk, Poznań, Cracow, Wrocław, Lublin, Szczecin and Łódź.

The Sunday voting took place in nearly 25,000 district election commissions. Due to unexpected circumstances, some extended their opening hours, waiting for voters until 11 p.m. Obstacles hindering the smooth course of the voting included badly printed ballots and the weather. Strong winds cut off the power supply from some polling stations, with electors casting their ballots in the light of candles and kerosene lamps. There were also a couple of cases of campaign-silence violations and attempts to bribe voters.
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