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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 27, 2013
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Battle of Warsaw?
June 27, 2013   
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Poland’s governing Civic Platform (PO) will soon face what may prove its biggest political challenge since it won the parliamentary elections in 2010 as the center-right party’s deputy leader Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz battles to keep her job as Warsaw mayor.

A group of city councilors want Gronkiewicz-Waltz dismissed in a referendum in the fall. Her ouster after six years as mayor could deal a painful blow to the PO and prove politically disastrous for the ruling coalition.

Gronkiewicz-Waltz took over as mayor in December 2006. She then secured reelection in 2010 after winning nearly 54 percent of the vote in the first round. But a poll commissioned by the aldermen shows that half of Warsaw’s residents now disapprove of Gronkiewicz-Waltz and would vote against her in a referendum.

For a local referendum to take place, a petition must be signed by at least 10 percent of those eligible to vote, which in the case of Warsaw’s mayoral elections means about 130,000 people. More than 133,000 signatures have already been collected.

A referendum on dismissing a local government official elected in a direct ballot is valid if at least three-fifths of the number who took part in the official’s election go to the polls. In Warsaw, 649,049 voters cast their ballots in the 2010 mayoral election. This means that a referendum on dismissing Gronkiewicz-Waltz would be valid if no fewer than 389,430 voters took part in it. According to those behind the campaign, such turnout is probable.

The key driving force behind the campaign is Piotr Guział, the mayor of Warsaw’s southern Ursynów district. He argues that the Polish capital is poorly managed, as exemplified by a recent scandal over the cancellation of a tender for garbage collection in the city. As a result, Warsaw is now several months behind schedule in its efforts to meet European Union recommendations on waste management. The botched tender cost one of the city’s deputy mayors, Jarosław Kochaniak, his job, but the people behind the referendum campaign insist that it is Gronkiewicz-Waltz herself who is responsible for the foul-up.

Moreover, critics are lashing out at Gronkiewicz-Waltz for allowing the city to run up record debt. They also argue that residents are tired of the traffic congestion paralyzing the city, especially delays in work to expand the subway system. Gronkiewicz-Waltz’s supporters retort that there are works under way all around the capital because City Hall is pressing ahead with many construction projects at the same time. As most these projects are co-financed by the European Union, the city authorities do not want to miss deadlines set by Brussels—even if that means a few years of traffic snarl-ups in Warsaw. But these arguments have failed to convince Guział and his supporters.

Meanwhile, the campaign against Gronkiewicz-Waltz has gained a political dimension that stretches far beyond the capital. The referendum petition has been signed by the leader of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) opposition party, Jarosław Kaczyński.

“We live in a capital city of great opportunities but these opportunities are not being taken advantage of,” Kaczyński said at a press conference. “We are dealing with people who are not mature enough to hold power.”

Thus, the Civic Platform’s struggle to keep Gronkiewicz-Waltz in her post as mayor is shaping up as a key battle between the country’s two biggest political parties in the run-up to the 2015 parliamentary elections. However, surveys show that support for the PO continues to dwindle. According to one poll, if parliamentary elections were held in mid-June, PiS would garner almost 30 percent of the vote, while the PO would have to settle for 23 percent. This is the widest gap between the two parties in seven years.
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