Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The local elections: what they mean

On Sunday I shall be going to the ballot box to cast my vote in the local elections. Voting for Poland's president, one is voting for how our country will be perceived abroad. It also gives you the chance to determine whether the ruling parliamentary majority needs a veto-wielding counterbalance. Parliamentary elections are more important. Poles may moan about our current 'do little' government, but just think of the alternatives from not that long ago - a coalition that included LPR and Samoobrona, or a post-communist government rotten to its very core.

But local authority elections in Poland, though not accorded the same degree of media coverage as the presidential and parliamentary ones are also important, and, I think, not clearly understood. I've spoken to many Poles about the mechanism of Sunday's elections, but no one has been able to tell me precisely what local government positions we will be voting for.

The Polish National Electoral Committee (PKW) has an excellent website with pages in English too, setting out the facts and figures behind Sunday's local government (or as they have it here, 'self-government') elections. Mazowieckie province, which includes Warsaw, is home to over five million Poles, of whom over four million are eligible to vote. Mazowieckie is one of 16 Polish voivodships (provinces). Each one is run by a voivode (wojewoda or governor) appointed by the Prime Minister, and a chief executive (marszałek or marshal) elected by members of the provincial parliament (sejmik) who themselves will be directly elected by popular vote this Sunday.

Here in Jeziorki, we will be voting for the mayor of Warsaw (prezydent miasta) and for councillors (radni) for Ursynów district (dzielnica - one of 18 that make up the capital). And for the provincial self-government (sejmik) of Mazowieckie. The provincial 'little parliament' is elected by inhabitants of Mazowsze's 37 powiats.

So who will I be voting for on Sunday? Well, I had my rant a few weeks ago about the lack of pavements and drains in Jeziorki. Since then, we've been informed that the drains are on the way (maybe in two years time, says one neighbour). Another neighbour tells me that people living on ul. Karczunkowska have been informed that a pavement is due, and that plots running up to the asphalt will have a strip of land compulsorily purchased so that paving slabs can at last be laid. Eventually. So then - the Warsaw mayoral race is between Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz (Civic Platform), Ciesław Bielecki (Law and Justice) and Wojciech Olejniczak (Democratic Left Alliance). The latest polls (published on Monday) put Gronkiewicz-Waltz on 50%, Bielecki on 20% and Olejniczak on 13%. Three other candidates including my protest-vote pick, Katarzyna Munio, are on 1%.

It is worth noting that whereas not a single national government has ever been re-elected in Poland since democracy was restored in 1989, local authorities - in particular popular mayors - routinely get re-elected for successive terms. Three-term mayors are not a rarity. This leads to continuity in local government affairs; a good gospodarz (host, householder) delivers the infrastructure, wins respect and popularity by doing so and gets re-elected again and again. In its annual survey of foreign investors in Poland, the state inward investment agency PAIiIZ finds year after year that multinationals setting up in Poland rate the quality of local government as being superior to that of central government. My guess is that it's for this very reason; continuity.

Moving on the the district council election, my children and I have dreamed up a fantastical conceit of how Nasz Ursynów, a local electoral initiative, might turn out in practice. Though its hyper-active website reveals little, our joke is that this party is not so much ultra-nationalist as ultra-localist. Their demands will no doubt insist than non-Ursynauers who cannot a prove a pure Ursynite bloodline be sent back to the Żoliborzes, Mokotóws or Saska Kępas from whence they came; that the gyppos camping out amid Jeziorki boglands in their squalid detached houses be kept out of Ursynów proper by a ghetto-style wall running along the east side of ul. Puławska, and that armed guards inspect passengers' residence permits on the Metro between Służew and Ursynów, turning away anyone who cannot offer proof of being an Ursynauer. Torchlight parades down al. KEN, bricks thrown through windows of shops owned by Radomites or (heavens forfend) even people from outside Mazowsze province and the impounding of all cars not on WN plates (starting with those wretches with WPIs).

Fantastical conceits notwithstanding, I'm not convinced by Nasz Ursynów's arguments, and will despite everything, in the end be voting once again for Civic Platform. Resignedly.


student SGH said...

Solid post.

I'd also vote for Katarzyna Munio, in NI I don't have the "who to vote for" problem. Our wójt will surely be elected for her fourth term in row and she has my vote. I looked at the lists of candidates for local council at all three levels and I have no idea who to vote for, I simply don't know those people. Will think about it on Sunday.

I popped in on the website of Nasz Ursynów and couldn't find their "ultra-localist" agenda. I actually couldn't find any information other than some twaddle...

Michael Dembinski said...

The Gnash Ursynów 'ultra localist' agenda is merely a joke, inspired by their logo of three exclamation marks on a red shield. One of my pupils who lives in Ursynów gives them a thumbs-up on account of their fight to keep Kopiec Cwila as it is (and not be bulldozed for yet another church).

student SGH said...

I'd also give them a thumbs-up. If there are more churches it doesn't mean more people would go to church. And residents of Ursynów in overwhelming majority don't think another church is what the borough really needs.

Pan Steeva said...

Thank you very much for this. I didn't know that people living in Polish cities - being my translation of a 'miasto' with powiat powers - didn't vote for the regional parliament. I'm ashamed at my ignorance.

I was also interested in the way that even minor things people write can affect one's sensibilities. I found both your wording about the Voivodeships - "each one is run by a voivode" and placing it before being run by the Marshal irritating. The Voivode is there to deliver central government policy and is a tool for limiting regional power. He doesn't run the region, he controls it. However, I do accept, albeit reluctantly, that your wording is a good description in practice. Indeed, my only excuse for this silliness is that I worked in central government to enhance regional power (ie reducing the Voivode/central government role) and then in a Marshal's Office (in Kielce). We actually had a very good relationship with the Voivode and his staff, but the friction remained clear. Krakow, at the other end of the spectrum, was a very different story, with open war between the two sides. Still, forget about it: you may never meet anyone else who cares.

Michael Dembinski said...

Pan Steeva - you are right - I checked the voting for the Sejmik issue with the Marshal's office - and indeed, Varsovians (and Radomites etc) will be voting for the Mazowsze provincial parliament. My mistake, which I'll correct. A misinterpretation of the PKW website on my part.