“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” The words of the great political thinker Edmund Burke. And such is the imagination of Poland governing Law and Justice Party (PiS), and so intense its passion for Warsaw, that the party proposes to change the boundaries of the city to make it larger.
Under a bill put forward by members of parliament from PiS, the size of Warsaw as an administrative unit would increase threefold. This, supporters claim, would make life easier for residents of areas surrounding Warsaw by improving their access to public transport, education, health services, and culture. Government spokesman Rafał Bochenek told a press conference that the aim of the planned changes to the system of local government was the sustainable development of the Warsaw region.
This cuts no ice with officials from several dozen local government authorities in the Warsaw area who have signed an appeal against the proposed administrative changes, claiming that they are unconstitutional and that the bill should be withdrawn. Under the bill, 32 outlying municipalities would become part of the Warsaw metropolitan area, and would have a say in selecting the capital’s authorities, including the mayor.
The mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, a deputy leader of the opposition Civic Platform party (PO), claimed the bill is aimed at enabling PiS to take control of the capital as a result of voters in areas that will be administratively included in Warsaw being largely supporters of PiS. Katarzyna Lubnauer, of the opposition Nowoczesna party, said: “This is about a naked desire for power. You can see this is set up so that PiS wins elections, despite what Warsaw residents want.”
Needless to say, Warsaw has decided to fight. By a 34 to 19 vote at city hall on Monday, it was decided to hold a referendum on 26th March on the changes. Councillors from PiS were largely against the referendum which, given that Warsaw is a largely PO supporting area, is likely to see a vote against the changes.
Gerrymandering is nothing new, of course, but the scale of this plan is audacious. Even if accepted at face value, and who but a cynic of the wrong sort would dare suggest otherwise, it is hard to understand how schools, transport, etc. would be thereby improved without additional expenditure, which it is not clear would be immediately available. This combined, with the proposal to limit the number of terms of mayors which would affect a number of popular mayors in regional cities who are not PiS supporters, is an attempt to disable opposition in a way which goes beyond the normal cut and thrust of party politics. In any democracy, a vibrant opposition is essential, if for no other reason than to remind government that office is leasehold, not freehold. But if one was brought up in a system where the party was absolute, and power was to be held for its own sake, perhaps democratic opposition is a more elusive concept to understand.
Be that as it may, there is no let-up in the struggle, to implement the party leader’s view. Whether it be history, as we saw here last week in The Past, or the present with the continuing uncertainty as to whether the government will support Donald Tusk’s candidature for a second term as president of the European Council, his voice seems more important than any other.
Last December Jarosław Kaczyński, said that the government in Warsaw will likely not back Donald Tusk for a second term. Tusk announced his candidacy to remain head of the European Council at a recent summit of EU leaders in Malta. Asked about whether Poland will be supporting Tusk for a second term, foreign minister Waszczykowski said that Tusk, who is still a Polish citizen, had not reported his desire to run for that position and that he would like to know from Tusk, “what he wants to do as to convince the Polish government to be able to carry out the mandate for the next two years”.
Perhaps Angela Merkel will have something to say about it when she meets Kaczyński during her visit to Warsaw on Tuesday, when she will also meet Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło and the country’s President, Andrzej Duda, for talks covering bilateral ties and security policy among other issues. Speaking of the upcoming German Federal elections in an interview with German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Kaczyński said: “Merkel would be best for us. Especially now, when it turns out that [Martin] Schulz is running against her.” If Merkel puts in a good word for Tusk, she might at least be listened to.