By Marcin Goettig
WARSAW (Reuters) - Opponents of Warsaw's mayor have gathered the necessary signatures to trigger a referendum on removing her from office, Polish media reported on Tuesday, a development that could deal a serious blow to Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
As well as running the Polish capital, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz is deputy head of Tusk's ruling Civic Platform party and defeat in a referendum would damage the government's credibility and add to pressure on Tusk to reshuffle his cabinet.
Civic Platform is already trailing the main opposition party by a record 11 points in opinion polls, as the government struggles to cope with an economic slowdown and unemployment of about 13 percent.
Opponents of Gronkiewicz-Waltz accuse her of causing delays in infrastructure projects that have paralyzed the city center and of a lack of efficiency in managing city finances that led to a rise in public transportation prices and some taxes.
The referendum motion was begun by the mayor of Warsaw's Ursynow district, Piotr Guzial, and backed by nearly all opposition parties. About 134,000 signatures from registered Warsaw voters backing the motion are required to trigger the vote.
Newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza said a sufficient number of valid signatures had been collected, citing unnamed sources at the National Election Bureau. Broadcaster TVN 24 reported the same development, also citing unnamed sources.
Dorota Tyrala, the election body's official in charge of elections in Warsaw, would not confirm the report. She told Reuters an announcement would be made on Wednesday.
Commenting on the media reports, Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski told state television: "We are awaiting a certain judgment on the local government in Warsaw."
Any referendum is likely to take place within the next month or two. Opinion polls indicate the majority of Warsaw residents want to remove the mayor, but the crucial question is whether enough people turn out to make the vote valid.
Poland is the only EU member to avoid recession since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008 and economists expect economic growth to gradually accelerate in the coming quarters.
But the economy nearly ground to a halt at the start of the year as a result of a recession in the euro zone, Poland's main trade partner, and deep cuts to public investment, which sent unemployment to a six-year high of over 14 percent.
The government does not face general elections until 2015. But investors in Poland, the biggest economy in ex-communist central Europe, take a close interest in what happens to Tusk's party.
After years of political and economic turbulence in the post-communist period, Tusk turned Poland into an island of stability in a volatile region. If he goes, investors fear the turbulence may return.
Tusk is under pressure to reshuffle his government to try to boost the party's dwindling public support. Three sources told Reuters last week that the prime minister plans to replace his finance minister, Jacek Rostowski, in a few months' time. Government officials have since said Tusk will make no decisions on a reshuffle before November.
(Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Pravin Char)