From the editor
October 31, 2013
Warsaw residents and the rest of Poland have recently undergone a crash course in democracy as Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz narrowly survived a referendum vote on whether she should be ousted as mayor of Warsaw. She kept her job, but questions continue to swirl.
Question number one: How is a referendum different from an election? Question two: How is a referendum on removing someone from office different from one on other issues? Question three: Is a referendum a political initiative? And finally, question four: What’s it all about?
After the referendum, there is a cacophony of conflicting opinions as to who came out the winner and who the loser. Both those who opposed Gronkiewicz-Waltz and those who supported her claimed they emerged victorious from the vote.
One way or the other, Gronkiewicz-Waltz stays on as mayor because too few voters cast their ballots for the result to be legally binding. The efforts of the mayor’s opponents have thus misfired, but still a formidable 350,000 Warsaw residents voted to have her ousted.
However, the ballot wasn’t really about Gronkiewicz-Waltz at all. She was more of a convenient target for those who wanted to take down Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform (PO) party.
Ever since it lost the last parliamentary and presidential elections, Jarosław Kaczyński’s opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party has been determined to use any weapon and take any opportunity to take revenge on Tusk and the PO and kick them out of office. The Warsaw referendum, devised by Gronkiewicz-Waltz’s local rivals, offered a tempting opportunity, especially after the PO’s recent series of defeats in votes at local government level.
The PO now has a short respite to lick its wounds before the election four-pack in the next two years: European Parliament elections and local government elections in 2014, and the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015.
Meanwhile, Gronkiewicz-Waltz, is girding for battle to secure reelection as mayor next year. Having survived the referendum, she has promised to pay more attention to what residents are saying rather than just keep her mind on the city’s budget, as she has done so far. And we’re talking almost zl.13 billion here—over $4 billion, more than the budgets of some small countries.
Tusk will have to find a way to combine all these election campaigns with the day-to-day business of running the country, especially as Kaczyński and his supporters will continue to hunt for any opportunity to embarrass, undermine and oust the government. And citizens are likely to take more crash courses in democracy in the process.