Thursday, February 24, 2011

Elections: Double your pleasure

Poles love democracy. They just don't love to vote. Turnout tends to be pretty low and anything over 50% is greeted with a joy that rather proves my point. One way to lift turnout is to give voters the chance to mark their ballots on not just one day, but two. Poland's legislators recently amended the electoral code to allow for just that possibility for the parliamentary elections that must be held by the end of this October.

President Bronislaw Komorowski is tasked with deciding whether to have elections on a Sunday (as usual) or on the Saturday as well. Komorowski of course hails from the Civic Platform (PO), so the decision will de facto be up to the PO, the senior ruling coalition party.

Komorowski recently began consultations on the issue, including with those at the Polish Electoral Commission (PKW). From the latter, he heard that one day of elections would cost 90 million zlotys (about 23 million euros) and two would set the Treasury back some 140 million zlotys (35 million euros). By no means two for one, but I think the costs are low enough money shouldn't be an issue.

For political parties, the matter is not without importance. Though this is a loose rule, the higher the turnout, the better the PO should do. Civic Platform voters tend to have a lot more on the go and be a lot less reliable in terms of actually voting. In contrast, Law and Justice's (PiS) voters are usually far more disciplined. Thus, if turnout is low, PiS tends to do better, all things considered.

This rough guide doesn't always work, but it should for this autumn's elections. The PO has seen some fatigue from ruling and has offended many of its core electorate with the lack of reform (or the wrong kind). Its voters are not dying to vote. With Smolensk always fresh in their minds, PiS voters are pumped up and will do anything to get rid of the hated Civic Platform.

The political reaction to the idea has mostly gone as expected. But PiS MP Adam Hofman got creative on one of Poland's nightly news channels on Thursday. Naturally, he didn't say "we are against 'two days' because we want turnout to be low so we can benefit." Instead, he went on about 'we are worried about the security of the ballot boxes overnight.' I can totally understand the worry. I'm sure candidates just like himself will be storming the polling centres to try to stuff ballots if they are held over two days.

So, Polish readers, the Civic Platform has not done a great deal since being elected in 2007 but they will almost surely part with at least one gift: two days of election fun.

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