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After 100 days, Poland's Tusk faces questions over election promises

FILE PHOTO: European Union leaders summit in Brussels

By Alan Charlish

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk hit his first 100 days in office on Friday with solid public support but facing criticism for failing to meet a host of election promises.

He blames the delays largely on the dire state of affairs left by his predecessors.

With local and European elections on the horizon, the fact that more than half of voters are dissatisfied with the pace of delivery on campaign promises poses a headache for a government whose election spurred hopes of radical change among voters weary of eight years of turbulent nationalist rule.

"Certainly we can see a slower pace of fulfilling the election promises than was indicated in before the election," said Bartosz Tekielski, 23, who works in a jewellery shop in central Warsaw.

"I am not surprised. Poland since it became a free country has never had a government that stuck to its promises 100%."

The former European Council president swooped into power in December on a promise to undo democratic backsliding and repair relations with Poland's Western allies who said Warsaw had subverted the rule of law and women's and minority rights.

According to poll aggregators, Tusk's KO remains ahead of PiS while the three groups that form the coalition government have over 50% combined. However, two recent polls put PiS in first place.

In a post on social media platform X, Tusk pointed to "record debt, omnipresent corruption, depraved media, a partisan prosecutor's office (and) chaos in the courts," among a list of unwanted inheritances from PiS.

A government source told Reuters the administration knew that decisions like delaying doubling the tax-free limit to 60,000 zlotys ($15,200) would be very unpopular but that they were necessary due to the bad state that PiS left the public finances in.

Not everybody sees it that way.

"This is a lie," PiS Chairman Mariusz Blaszczak told Reuters. "We left the public finances in good shape".

Another factor has been divisions within the broad pro-European coalition that propelled Tusk to the head of government.

A decision by the right-leaning parliament speaker Szymon Holownia to postpone a debate on liberalising abortion laws until after the first round of the local elections infuriated New Left lawmakers.

"We won the (general) election and most of society is expecting us to try to change the law," said Katarzyna Kotula, a New Left lawmaker who serves as equality minister in Tusk's cabinet.

"You cannot hide behind elections. It cannot be used as an excuse."

REFORM

While critics say most of Tusk's 100 promises for his first 100 days remain unfulfilled, he has delivered on a key pledge - unblocking billions in European Union funds that had been frozen due to concerns over the rule of law under PiS.

According to a United Surveys poll for RMF FM and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily, voters see this as his biggest achievement, with over 60% of respondents saying his handling of the issue was a success. They are also positive about the way in which the government has improved Poland's international relations.

However, lawyers have questioned why Brussels decided to unfreeze the cash before judicial reforms were completed.

"(Unfreezing the funds) is very bad for Poland because now I don't believe there is a great motivation to introduce the changes that are necessary," said Krzysztof Izdebski, policy director at the Stefan Batory Foundation think-tank.

KO rejects such criticism, saying the decision to unblock the funds resulted from a recognition in Brussels that Warsaw was committed to restoring the rule of law despite resistance from supporters of the old government in powerful positions such as PiS ally President Andrzej Duda.

"It's obvious there are obstacles like the president, the behaviour of some prosecutors or people in the judiciary system, but there were several meetings at the European level where the progress and the changes were shown," said KO lawmaker Agnieszka Pomaska.

Some of the most radical changes implemented after the new government came to power were in state media as Culture Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz sought to overhaul outlets that critics said had become vehicles not just for government propaganda but for hate speech against minorities.

In an effort to stop the changes, PiS lawmakers occupied the the offices of the state TV and news agency, while courts and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights have also questioned the legality of the ministry's moves on public media.

The public are divided on the media reforms, with the United Surveys poll showing that 43.7% consider them a success while 36.9% say they were a failure.

($1 = 3.9443 zlotys)

(Reporting by Alan Charlish, additional reporting by Marek Strzelecki, editing by Angus MacSwan)