Polish officials push to get out the vote in local elections
| Serock, Poland
This typical rural community of some 8,200 people is being prepared - along with the rest of Poland - for this month's local council elections. Here as elsewhere there is much official activity to ''get out the vote'' come June 17. There is also widespread public skepticism and little voter enthusiasm.
Polish authorities see their weeks of energetic pre-election campaigning as a ''nationwide debate'' aimed at getting the ''best'' candidates. ''Best'' means persons respected at least for good character - but always, of course, having the right ideological ticket.
The main election promise is local government more closely tailored to the people's needs and local community interests.
According to official figures, 2.3 million voters took part in some 46,000 meetings to nominate candidates. Seventy percent of voters were said to have checked their names on the registration lists by the end of May.
That, of course, does not necessarily mean they will go to the polls when election day comes. In town or countryside, one meets few who say they will.
The nomination system itself accounts for this obviously widespread disinterest. Candidates presented for consideration at voters' meetings had been first vetted through the Patriotic Movement for National Rebirth (PRON) and its electoral commission.
PRON, like parliament and local government, is dominated by the Communist Party. It is made up of other so-called coalition parties as well as all the affiliated sociopolitical groups and individuals actively subscribing to PRON's - and hence the party's - program for national revival.
Ostensibly the PRON program is based on the decisions of the ''democratizing'' party convention of 1981, whose hopeful picture was dimmed by the imposition of martial law within six months.
Official anxiety about the June 17 outcome is implicit in the magnitude of the government's campaign. Voters' meetings were convened in each of 2,455 electoral constituencies - from the 49 voivodship (regional) councils down to the smallest village, for example. Each night, television has carried discussions and reminders about registering and the national duty to vote.
Many Polish officials claim the ''new'' procedures are the ''most democratic'' since the war. Here in Serock, Jerzy Roman, the local PRON chairman (a party member since 1960), pointed to the big list of candidates posted on his office wall.
For each seat in the constituency, two names are listed, along with each candidate's age, profession, and other qualifications. This suggests a kind of choice. But each candidate was, in fact, picked by the election commission in advance of the voters' meetings.
People could object to a nominee on the basis of a bad experience with that person. Here in Serock, a few were rejected. But in the country as a whole - according to an official report - only 1.1 percent of some 220,000 candidates were turned down in this way.
The meetings in Serock did not draw large crowds. But Mr. Roman claimed they had been ''representative,'' and he was confident of a good turnout on June 17. This, in fact, may well be a general rural pattern.
It is in the cities - the Solidarity strongholds like Warsaw and Gdansk - where the turnout is likely to be less than the 60 to 70 percent the government would regard as a reasonable success.
The remnants of the Solidarity underground have called for a general boycott, and the call is certain to be repeated nearer to voting day. The large, residual Solidarity hard core are certain to respond.
But talk in Warsaw suggests individuals are more likely to abstain because the proceedings have been too stage-managed by the authorities through PRON.
In Serock, it is said that the new council of 40 will be made up of 20 members of the Communist Party, 9 members of the United Peasant Party, and 11 nonparty ''independents.'' Broadly, that will be the pattern throughout the country.
Voters may, if they wish, mark an X across the whole ballot paper. That simply invalidates their vote, and such papers will not be counted either way. Crossing out every name on the list is permissible, but such a negative vote would be effective only if enough people did it to reduce the vote to less than 50 percent. In that event, new elections would be held.
Out in the countryside, the turnout may well be substantially higher than the 60 to 70 percent the government seems to be counting on. Among the older generation, the voting habit persists.
There is also some nibbling apprehension in small communities ''where everybody knows you,'' that failing to show up at the polling station might work to a farmer's disadvantage when he wanted building materials or to buy idle state land.
So far, however, there has not been any significant evidence of people being intimidated into going to the polls. Rural folk as well as townspeople are not afraid to tell a stranger they will not vote.
One Serock woman told of an election official calling to give her a paper on which her and her husband's registration numbers were written. ''It was all very polite,'' the woman said, ''but I still don't intend to vote.''
Local concerns, not national politics, are the issues in the countryside. There is little trace of Rural Solidarity. Questions at election meetings have concerned water supply and local power facilities that are inadequate to power the growing number of electrical appliances.