Polish government pledges fire station renovation funds to small districts with highest election turnout

Poland’s government has announced a contest that will reward small municipalities which have the highest turnout in next month’s elections with prizes of up to one million zloty (€220,000) to modernise their fire stations.

Larger cities – where the opposition has the strongest support – are excluded from the contest. A similar programme during the 2020 presidential elections was widely seen as a way for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to boost turnout in the smaller, more rural communities where it has the strongest support.

Minister @moskwa_anna podczas konferencji prasowej #BitwaORemizy w @KGPSP: Ostatnio odwiedziłam wiele remiz, np. w Zychorzynie w powiecie przysuskim – imponujące działania, ale też duży plac zabaw – nie ma innego miejsca w tej społeczności, gdzie koncentrowałyby się wszystkie… pic.twitter.com/51vqJt0gYA

— Ministerstwo Klimatu i Środowiska (@MKiS_GOV_PL) September 27, 2023

“We want to encourage active participation in the elections,” announced climate minister Anna Moskwa, whose ministry yesterday launched the competition – dubbed “Battle for the Firehouses” (Bitwa o remizy) – in cooperation with the interior ministry.

Within each of Poland’s 314 countries (powiaty) – excluding cities that have county rights – the district (gmina) with a population of under 20,000 that has the highest turnout in the parliamentary elections on 15 October will win the prize. The government plans to spend a total of 300 million zloty (€64.8 million) on the scheme.

The money can be used for renovation, purchasing equipment, and for improving insulation, heating systems and other energy sources.

Nie byłem fanem poprzedniej akcji „Bitwa o wozy”, nie jestem fanem i tej. Wolę, by pieniądze dla OSP szły realnie tam, gdzie są potrzebne, a nie tam, gdzie jest największa frekwencja wyborcza, a co nie ma nic wspólnego z tymi potrzebami. https://t.co/5m7iAgdEUb

— Tomasz Żółciak (@tzolciak) September 27, 2023

As Moskwa noted yesterday, in small communities fire houses are not only used by the fire service, but also serve as a kind of community centre.

“Fire stations are the centre of social activity in municipalities,” said the minister. “They are a meeting place for residents, rural housewives’ groups, village heads as well as firefighters…[Our] priority is to modernise the stations to develop such local places of civic activity in every corner of Poland.”

Moskwa noted that in the last parliamentary elections, small municipalities had an average turnout of 54% to 59%, compared to 62% for the country as a whole. During the 2020 presidential elections, the government ran a similar scheme, offering new fire trucks to small municipalities with the highest turnout.

That previous programme was criticised by a number opposition figures and commentators, who said that the aim was to boost turnout in areas that were more likely to support PiS-backed candidate Andrzej Duda. The latest scheme has been met with a similar response.

Support for PiS in small districts at the 2019 parliamentary elections:
– up to 5k residents: 58.3%
– 5-10k residents: 54.6%
– 10-20k residents: 47.6%

(Across the country as a whole: 43.6%)

So the fire truck offer is aimed at mobilising Duda voters https://t.co/3afSKzSCPZ

— Daniel Tilles (@danieltilles1) June 20, 2020

“A repeat of 2020, electoral bribery,” wrote Przemysław Słowik, co-leader of the Greens(Zieloni), on social media.

“I was not a fan of the previous ‘Battle of the Fire Trucks’ campaign, I am not a fan of this one either,” wrote Tomasz Żółciak, a journalist with the Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily. “I’d rather see money for fire brigades go realistically to where they are needed, not to where there is the biggest voter turnout.”

The government has already faced accusations of seeking to boost turnout among its own supports by changing the electoral code to increase the number of polling stations in rural areas and to require local authorities to provide free transport to elderly people – who are more likely to vote for PiS – on election day.

The president has approved changes to the electoral code that increase the number of polling stations and provide free transport for elderly voters.

The opposition claims the move is intended to increase turnout among groups that support the ruling party https://t.co/FiFSypzy2j

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 14, 2023

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: KKPSPK (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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