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Poland's ruling nationalists seek to broaden appeal as election nears

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By Joanna Plucinska

KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling nationalists want to appeal to more educated urban voters beyond their conservative rural base ahead of a parliamentary election later this year when they hope to gain a large enough majority to change the constitution.

The eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS), in power since 2015, is seen winning 42 percent, according to an opinion poll by Kantar this week, well ahead of its nearest rival, the liberal, pro-EU Civic Coalition, on 27 percent.

Support for PiS has been buoyed by its generous social programmes and strong economic growth, while its euroscepticism, tough stance on immigration and embrace of traditional Catholic values are also attractive to conservative voters.

But to win the two thirds majority needed to amend the constitution, PiS will have to reach out to more liberal-minded, pro-EU voters in Poland’s cities and towns, though political analysts remain sceptical that it can do so.

“It’s a global, European trend that cities are by nature more interested in the views and ideology of the left. Poland is still different, this conservative element is strong,” Poland’s minister for entrepreneurship and technology Jadwiga Emilewicz told Reuters in a recent interview.

“We are aware that 60% of Poles live in… cities, big metropolises, small towns. We have a real offer for them,” she said during a “brainstorming” conference in the city of Katowice that explored ways of boosting the appeal of PiS.

PiS’s pitch to urban voters will focus on boosting low wages and investment and on environmental issues such as air pollution.

UPHILLTASK

The party and its right-wing coalition partners could adopt measures to encourage clean energy production and open up more “zero-emission” zones in towns and cities, said Emilewicz.

It could also work with regional authorities to foster special enterprise zones with breaks and incentives to investors willing to create better paying jobs.

PiS plans more initiatives in the coming months designed to lure urban voters, but analysts said it faces an uphill task, noting that it lost ground in Polish cities including the capital Warsaw in last year’s local elections.

“If you want to change your line, you have to do it well ahead of time… You have to win a campaign with momentum, not with last-minute manoeuvres,” said Jaroslaw Flis, a sociologist with the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

Flis said he thought PiS was unlikely to win a constitution-changing majority, adding that pushing too hard to win over more liberal voters could backfire by alienating the party’s conservative base.

“The fact that they have declared they want to get the support of the more well-to-do in society… is quite risky,” Flis said.

PiS wants to secure a constitution-changing majority in order to entrench its conservative vision for Poland. This includes extending an overhaul of the judiciary, which has prompted legal battles with the European Union, reducing foreign ownership of Polish media and other measures.

PiS won 235 seats in the 460-seat lower house Sejm in the 2015 election but would need 307 seats to be able to alter the constitution.

(Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Gareth Jones)

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