Polish Ruling Party Woos Moderates for October's Local Elections

(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s ruling Law & Justice party, leading opinion polls seven weeks before local elections, unveiled a platform focused on capturing moderate and urban voters discouraged by its conflicts with the European Union over the rule of law.

At a convention on Sunday, conservative Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced centrist priorities such as fighting the EU’s worst air pollution, reducing the costs of trash disposal, creating sidewalks around schools while improving care for the elderly as well as internet access. While still vague, the plans don’t suggest any big increase in public expenditure, according to Credit Agricole Bank Polska SA.

Law & Justice has fought the EU over its court revamp, which raised concern it’s drifting away from liberal democratic standards. Still, with the economy growing 5 percent, the party remains supported by 40 percent of the electorate, according to the average result from recent opinion polls, compared with 32 percent for a coalition of pro-EU opposition groups.

"These aren’t proposals for massive additional social spending,” Jakub Borowski, the chief economist at Credit Agricole in Warsaw, told Bloomberg. “There’s no room for fireworks at this stage, we’re at the top of the cycle and a potential slowdown could be problematic for public finances.”

Morawiecki’s draft 2019 budget envisages the public sector deficit at 1.8 percent of gross domestic product, below the EU’s 3 percent cap even though Poland will hold four elections over the next 21 months. While Law & Justice has ramped up social spending, it has kept a lid on the shortfall, helped by the neighboring euro zone’s recovery propelling the nation’s $470 billion economy.

‘Uphill March’

To complete its domestic political dominance, Law & Justice needs to win power in the regions as well as the biggest cities, including Warsaw, in elections on Oct. 21. While Morawiecki listed “re-Polonization” of foreign-owned companies among his successes, he omitted his party’s usual call to return Poland to its Catholic roots, tempering his message to more moderate urban voters.

Meanwhile, Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski fired up the party’s core in one of his first major speeches since he spent more than a month in hospital in May and June, saying that the party must be united amid constant and unsubstantiated “attacks” during its three-years in power.

“We knew this will be a steep uphill march, with stones being thrown toward our heads,” Kaczynski told the gathering of party faithful. The crowd chanted back: “We will win! We will win!”

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