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Politics & Society
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Referendum Fiasco
   
Fewer than one in 10 Poles voted in a Sept. 6 referendum asking citizens whether they wanted changes to the electoral system and an end to state funding for political parties, far short of the 50 percent needed for the result to be binding.

Only 7.8 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, the lowest turnout in any referendum held in Poland after the country toppled communism and moved to democracy in 1989.

The referendum, which cost a hefty zl.84 million in public money, asked Poles if they wanted single-member constituencies to be introduced in elections to the lower house of parliament, whether political parties should continue to be financed from public money, and whether tax authorities should resolve doubts in favor of taxpayers.

The referendum was predominately a response to demands by Paweł Kukiz, an independent, dark-horse candidate who won a surprising 20.8 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election earlier this year. This veteran rock musician has for years been pressing for single-member constituencies to be introduced in Poland to replace the current proportional representation system.

Bronisław Komorowski, standing for a second term in office, announced the referendum a day after the first round of the presidential election, in what many saw as a blatant bid to woo Kukiz supporters ahead of the second round. The bid proved unsuccessful and opposition candidate Andrzej Duda won the race for the presidency in the second round. After taking office, Duda made no attempt to cancel the referendum although many observers said turnout was unlikely to reach 50 percent.

The paltry level of interest shown by citizens dealt a body blow to Kukiz, whose popularity has been sinking rapidly in recent weeks. Until recently his Kukiz 15 group enjoyed more than 20 percent support in the polls and was in third place behind Jarosław Kaczyński’s opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party and Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz’s ruling Civic Platform (PO). Today Kukiz’s approval ratings have plummeted by more than half. According to some polls, Kukiz’s group is now behind the United Left electoral coalition and the junior governing coalition partner, the Polish People’s Party (PSL).

In his first reactions after the referendum fiasco, Kukiz said that most politically active voters supported the flagship ideas of his group because 79 percent of those who took part in the ballot supported single-member constituencies. Meanwhile, 83 percent opposed the current system of financing parties from public money.

Political analysts are now asking themselves about the likely turnout in the Oct. 25 parliamentary election. Polls show that, after eight years in power, the PO and the PSL are likely to be elbowed out by PiS, which would thus secure a monopoly on power. The recently elected president, Duda, hails from PiS. If Kaczyński’s party does pull off a double whammy, some say Poland may be in for some major political—and possibly constitutional—changes. Analysts emphasize that a low turnout is likely to work in PiS’s favor. Its voters are traditionally more disciplined and more likely than others to turn out on polling day. When PiS last won parliamentary elections in 2005, turnout stood at a mere 41 percent.

W.Ż.