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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » October 29, 2002
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October 29, 2002 By Ma³gorzata Kaczorowska   
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The Electoral Law of July 16, 1998, for commune councils, county councils and province assemblies, as amended Feb. 15 and July 26 this year, regulates the system of elections to the local government in Poland; this year's local elections were conducted according to this system.

The candidates for councils at all levels numbered nearly 290,000; in the previous elections in 1998—260,000. Almost 10,000 candidates competed for the 2,478 positions of rural commune administrators and mayors. A record was reported in Szczecin, with as many as 27 candidates per seat. Szczecin is also in the lead in terms of the number of candidates seeking the position of city mayor: 13, only one fewer than in record-breaking Warsaw, with 14 candidates running for the position.

Piaseczno near Warsaw also has an unusually strong representation, with 18 candidates per council seat. The best staffed county is E³k, with 16 candidates per seat, while the province leader is Silesia, with 22 candidates competing for one seat on the local assembly.
The candidates were put up by 27,000 electoral committees, with local committees accounting for 90 percent of the number.

The Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union (SLD-UP) coalition put up nearly 60,000 candidates; the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL)—30,000. Six political parties were registered in all 16 provinces.
Under the local electoral law, in communes of up to 20,000 residents the elections for councils are according to first-past-the-post rules and take place in one-seat constituencies. The winner is the candidate who wins a majority of the vote. In communes with over 20,000 residents, in counties and provinces, the elections are proportional, with votes converted into seats according to the d'Hondt system.

The new system increases the chances of larger parties, especially when the gap between the winner and the runner-up is substantial. The committees which will participate in the distribution of seats are those that win over the minimum 5 percent of votes at the communal, county, or provincial level.

With the goal of equalizing the chances of individual electoral committees, and in order to secure the interests of the Treasury and to protect the elections from external intervention, the electoral law introduced a ban on financing elections with money transferred from the state budget, the budgets of local government bodies and from foreign individuals as understood under the foreign exchange act regulations. All remaining sources, not embraced by the ban, are free to transfer funds to a given electoral committee.

The electoral law does not give equal treatment to all those electoral committees that obtained financial resources exceeding their incurred expenditures. The electoral committees formed by political parties, associations and social organizations can keep the surplus for their statutory goals, while the electoral committees formed by the electorate have to transfer the surplus to a charity institution, and subsequently include relevant information in a financial statement.

The financing of political parties' election campaigns is subject to certain restrictions. The Act on political parties stipulated the sources of financing, to include membership fees, donations, inheritance and income from property. However, political parties can obtain neither money nor non-pecuniary contributions from bodies and organizations with no corporate status.

The range of individuals able to sponsor a political party has also been limited. The category excludes individuals who have no place of residence on the territory of Poland—except Polish citizens living abroad—and foreigners living in Poland.

The open character of election campaign financing—given very serious treatment by the legislator in the local electoral law—was enforced by means of placing on the electoral committees the obligation to present statements on the sources of obtained funds and incurred election-related expenses to the election commissioner. Once verified, the statements are made available to public inspection.
According to the Act of June 20 on the direct election of rural commune administrators and mayors, they have been elected in a direct vote for the first time. They will replace the former boards, or several-member executive bodies elected by councilors. This does not mean, however, that positions including city deputy mayor will be liquidated. The city mayor will now be able to co-opt their deputies, but will take all the decisions unassisted.

The commune council will no longer be able to dismiss the rural commune administrator and mayor. From now on, this will exclusively be the privilege of the residents, who will be able to shorten the term of the local leader by way of referendum.

As of this year, the powers of the directly elected rural commune administrators and mayors will include the powers of the present boards. The newly elected administrators and mayors will propose draft budgets, local development projects and investment schemes to the councilors, as well as make all administrative decisions.
If none of the candidates wins more than half of the valid vote in the first round of the elections, the two candidates with the largest number of valid votes from the first round will participate in the run-off Nov. 10.

In this year's elections, Poles elected 38,233 councilors in 2,478 communes; 6,296 councilors in 315 counties; 1,745 councilors in county-level municipalities and 561 councilors of province assemblies. Compared with the previous elections four years ago, the number of councilors is smaller by 17,000. Warsaw has seen the greatest reduction in the number of councilors: from 720 city representatives to 459.
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