Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, mayor of Warsaw and deputy leader of the ruling party Civic Platform (PO), will face a recall election on October 13, in what could potentially prove the most significant political event of the year in Poland.
Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, mayor of Warsaw
Courtesy of The Office of Warsaw Mayor
Ms Gronkiewicz-Waltz’s problems began in earnest in the summer of this year after confusion over new garbage-collection rules that were set to come into force on July 1. The new rules were complicated and left Varsovians confused as to how much they would be paying for waste disposal and to whom. The resulting uproar led to the dismissal of Deputy Mayor Jarosław Kochaniak, who was in charge of implementing the new waste disposal system, after a court declared the tender void.
This however, did little to cool tempers.
Varsovians were also frustrated with the slow pace of construction on the city’s second subway line, which has caused huge traffic jams. Likewise unpopular were steep hikes in the prices for public transportation implemented by the mayor. Add to that several PR slip-ups by the PO politician and the stage was set for Ms Gronkiewicz-Waltz’s political opponents to pounce.
Opposition politicians filed a petition for a recall vote on the mayor and succeeded in collecting 166,726 signatures from Varsovians supporting their efforts, significantly more than the required minimum of 133,756 needed for such a vote to take place. Ms Gronkiewicz-Waltz will be recalled if at least 389,430 votes are cast on October 13 and a majority vote to remove her.
Recall vote? Don’t bother
The ruling party’s strategy is now to dissuade Varsovians from going to the polls, hoping that the minimum threshold of voter attendance needed to unseat the mayor is not met. Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who heads the ruling party, has publicly called for Warsaw’s citizens to boycott the recall vote this Sunday.
Mr Tusk told journalists that “Varsovians who go to vote are increasing the chances of those who want to remove the mayor. Anybody who feels Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz should continue to be mayor, should not participate in the recall vote.”
The prime minister’s stance is not bereft of political logic.
A September MillwardBrown poll revealed that of those who intend to take part in the recall vote, 75 percent will vote to remove the mayor from office. The polls also revealed that 29 percent of Warsaw’s residents will “definitely” take part in the vote while 18 percent say they “may” take part.
Warsaw Uprising 2013?
Law and Justice (PiS), PO’s main rival, is understandably encouraging Varsovians to go and vote on October 13. But the opposition party raised controversy after veterans of the Warsaw Uprising (a failed 1944 bid to defeat Nazi German occupiers) criticized a poster campaign the party organized in its get-out-the-vote campaign. In late September, PiS unveiled posters bearing a large letter W, inevitably prompting comparisons with the W-hour symbol, which signaled the outbreak of the uprising on August 1, 1944.
“During the Warsaw Uprising we were united even though we came from different backgrounds. Now our symbol, just like the Smolensk catastrophe, is being used to divide people,” Zbigniew Ścibor-Rylski, head of the Warsaw Uprising Association, a veterans group, told Gazeta Wyborcza. “We are outraged,” Mr Ścibor-Rylski added.
In response, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński said the letter W used in its campaign was not in reference to the uprising per se but represented “a symbol of [the city] Warsaw”.
“The letter W is a symbol of Warsaw, the whole history of Warsaw, and all that was great and good about it,” Mr Kaczyński said.
So what if the mayor is removed?
Mr Tusk has said that if Ms Gronkiewicz-Waltz is removed, he will appoint an acting mayor to run the city until scheduled local government elections in 2014. Such a defeat would however come as a big blow to the ruling party, which considers Warsaw one of its political bastions. Defeat for Ms Gronkiewicz-Waltz would also come on the heels of a string of losses in elections this year for the ruling party.
In April, Bolesław Piecha of PiS won a senatorial seat in by-elections carried out in the Rybnik constituency in Silesia, beating out PO’s candidate. In July, Jerzy Wilk, also of PiS, defeated Elżbieta Gelert of Civic Platform in the second round of a closely-run mayoral election in Elbląg, northern Poland. And most recently, Zdzisław Pupa, another PiS politician, was elected senator in a landslide by-election to the Senate in the southeastern Podkarpackie voivodship.
Even if PiS is unable to field a candidate capable of winning an eventual mayoral election in Warsaw where the conservative party remains unpopular, defeat for Ms Gronkiewicz-Waltz would doubtlessly help feed the narrative that PO is on the decline and set to lose its grip on power in the upcoming local government elections in 2014 and parliamentary polls scheduled for 2015.
The battle is for more than Warsaw.
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