June 20, 2020 / 11:33 AM / 22 days ago

Polish opposition questions offer of fire engines to boost voter turnout

WARSAW, June 20 (Reuters) - Poland’s government is offering fire engines to small municipalities that register high turnout in next week’s close-run presidential election, but the opposition said the initiative appeared to be thinly veiled vote-buying.

The interior ministry campaign, dubbed “The Battle for Fire Engines 2020”, will award one fire truck each to the municipalities that log the highest turnout in the country’s 16 regions during the June 28 first-round vote.

Only districts with less than 20,000 inhabitants will be eligible for the trucks because they have struggled to raise the down payment required to buy the vehicles with financing from the ministry, said Deputy Interior Minister Maciej Wasik.

“We would like to encourage the local communities in these poor municipalities to be active on June 28,” Wasik told a news conference.

The largest opposition party said the scheme seemed designed at boosting turnout in rural areas where support for incumbent ruling party ally President Andrzej Duda is strongest.

The ruling nationalist party Law and Justice (PiS) has its main support base in the countryside and small towns, while the main opposition party, the centre-right Civic Platform (PO), gets most of its backing in cities.

“I think the competition aims to increase turnout in municipalities where research shows President Andrzej Duda has a bigger chance of support from the electorate,” PO spokesman Jan Grabiec said.

“It’s a bit like the Putinisation of Poland,” he added.

Jaroslaw Flis, a sociologist at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, said he saw nothing suspicious about the government campaign.

“The fact that a party has a problem reaching people in small towns is... a problem of that party,” he said.

Long seen as the clear favourite for re-election, PiS ally Duda is facing an increasingly tight race as his poll numbers slip.

Duda has emphasised that he wants to reduce the differences between poorer rural regions and the richer cities, and has pledged infrastructure spending to close the gap. (Reporting by Alan Charlish Editing by Helen Popper)

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