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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » December 1, 2014
Politics & Society
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Uproar Over Local Elections
December 1, 2014   
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Opposition politicians have demanded a re-run of Poland’s Nov. 16 local elections, claiming they were rigged, after the ballot was marred by delays and the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party won fewer votes than exit polls suggested.

Law and Justice, the biggest opposition grouping, won the highest percentage of votes but came second in terms of seats on regional assemblies.

Following chaos and delays in vote counting amid a failure in the IT system used by election officials, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński called on his supporters to protest at a rally in Warsaw Dec. 13.

“What’s happening is a threat to the democratic system in Poland,” Kaczyński said.

The left-wing opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) party, which fared badly in the vote, joined PiS in calling for a special law to cut short the terms of the newly elected local governments.

But Polish President Bronisław Komorowski, who hails from the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party, described such demands as “the depths of madness.”

Official election results showed that the PO won 179 seats in regional assemblies, followed by PiS with 171 seats. The Polish People’s Party (PSL), the junior partner in the coalition government, finished third, winning 157 seats in a surprisingly strong performance. The Democratic Left Alliance secured a mere 28 seats.

In terms of the total number of votes cast, PiS was backed by 26.85 percent and the PO by 26.36 percent. PiS politicians, however, pointed out that exit polls had indicated a wider gap between the country’s two biggest parties, showing support for Law and Justice at 31.5 percent and 27.5 percent for the PO.

The exit poll results had seen PiS politicians celebrating what appeared to be their first election win in years and a major boost for the party ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

PiS leader Kaczyński described the official election results as “unreliable, not to say falsified.” He added that a rally in Warsaw Dec. 13 would demand a change in Poland’s electoral law “so as to radically limit the possibilities of falsifying election results.”

Experts, meanwhile, pointed out that under Poland’s electoral system, it is possible for a party to win the highest percentage of the vote in the country as a whole but still finish second in terms of number of seats on regional assemblies.

Commentators pointed out that exit polls may not have been accurate because of the high number of invalid votes cast. Election officials said 17.9 percent of the votes to regional assemblies were invalid, up from 12 percent in similar elections four year ago. Experts said voters may have been confused by the design of the pamphlets on which they had to mark their choice of candidate.

Poles Nov. 16 voted to elect around 47,000 members of district and county councils and regional assemblies, in addition to almost 2,500 mayors and county administrators. The official results of local elections in Poland are usually announced within 48 hours after polling stations close. This time an IT system used to count votes failed, and it took almost a week before the official results were announced.

Poland’s state election commission (PKW) had purchased the IT system just four months ahead of the elections from a company that did not meet standards required in the bidding procedure.

Amid the chaos and facing a barrage of criticism, all members of the election commission announced they would resign.

“The breakdown of the system for counting votes is a scandalous occurrence, an embarrassment,” Komorowski said.

After meeting with officials from Poland’s Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court, Komorowski said there were no legal grounds to challenge the results of the elections and called for cool heads. Due to the uproar over the elections, he canceled an official visit to Japan planned for the end of November.

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz of the PO party said that calling another election was out of the question and described the call by Kaczyński and SLD leader Leszek Miller for a new ballot as “heresy.” “Politicians cannot decide whether elections are valid or not,” Kopacz said. She added, “What Kaczyński is saying is paranoid. I am warning the PiS leader: trying to scare Poles is not the way to take over power.”

Highlighting the level of tensions over the way the elections were run, a group of protesters Nov. 20 barged into the state election commission headquarters in Warsaw. They started occupying a conference room and demanded that all commission members be dismissed. Most of the protesters were members of radical nationalist movements and included Janusz Korwin-Mikke, the leader of the anti-establishment Congress of the New Right (KNP), and right-wing deputy Przemysław Wipler. There were also several right-wing journalists among them. The state election commission decided to temporarily stop work, but the protesters were later taken out of the building by the police. Twelve people were arrested.

A poll by the IBRIS agency for Rzeczpospolita daily found that 59 percent of Poles believe that the local elections were fair, while 29 percent think they were unfair, and 12 percent are undecided. Though most Poles do not believe claims of election fraud, some 75 percent said that the chaos in the vote counting could damage Poland’s reputation abroad.
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