Mon, Oct 08, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Political battle in Poland has ramifications for Europe

Warsaw and the port city of Gdansk are the key battlegrounds as the nation heads to the polls on Oct. 21, with some fearing that losses for opposition parties might see them fade away

By Marek Strzelecki  /  Bloomberg

Illustration: Yusha

The vote for who should run Warsaw barely resonates outside Poland ordinarily, but this time, the scene is set for another election that could have repercussions for an increasingly divided Europe.

The city of almost 2 million is one of the last bastions of resistance to the nationalist, them-against-us political force that has turned Poland into the EU’s biggest rogue state. The municipal ballot on Oct. 21 pits the populists tightening their grip on all facets of Polish society against an opposition fighting to keep a foothold or potentially face oblivion.

“This is a historic moment that may decide our future for generations,” said Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, a lawmaker for Poland’s Nowoczesna opposition party and among the most prominent leaders of anti-government protests. “We’ll either remain a part of the EU or we will drift to the East.”

The Law and Justice party has taken control of the publicly owned broadcasters, the biggest companies and the courts since winning the first parliamentary majority of Poland’s post-communist era three years ago. It also embarked on a defense of Poland’s national Catholic identity, which included a controversial defamation law on the country’s role in the Holocaust and the branding of some opponents as traitors.

Supported by that narrative in Warsaw, Law and Justice candidate Patryk Jaki, 33, has all but closed the gap in the polls on his leading opponent, Rafal Trzaskowski. The numbers suggest Trzaskowski, 46, would prevail in a run-off. Should he lose and the ruling party regains power in other regional councils too, opposition groups say the consequences would resonate for years, especially after Law and Justice changed rules for local elections to give the government more oversight of the process.

Already, Poland is in a protracted standoff with the EU over the government’s alleged encroachment on the democratic rule of law. Poland is the biggest net beneficiary from the EU’s common budget and there are signs the economy is increasingly reliant on that money.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says that things are going great and any criticism is just trying to distract from the nation’s progress.

Morawiecki hailed the country as an “economic miracle” as the Polish stock exchange was promoted from an emerging market to a developed one by index compiler FTSE Russell.

This week, he dismissed a media report linking him to a scandal involving secret recordings of top Polish officials as a German-led provocation before the local elections.

Warsaw is the key battleground along with the Baltic port of Gdansk, where the Solidarity uprising that ultimately toppled communism started. It is now a stronghold of the opposition Civic Platform, which governed Poland from 2007 to 2015.

The son of Lech Walesa, the Solidarity grandee and Poland’s first elected president after communism, is running for mayor in the city.

On Tuesday, Jaki was pledging to build new metro lines with help from government funds offering coffee to pedestrians in downtown Warsaw. Trzaskowski walked in the old town presenting a thick booklet containing his election program and arguing his contender is just showing slides.

“Warsaw is a liberal heartland and extremely difficult territory for Law & Justice, but the party’s candidate has run an extremely energetic campaign,” Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics and contemporary European studies at the University of Sussex in England, said in a blog post.

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