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By Pawel Sobczak and Chris Borowski
WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is heading for a humiliating loss in his party's stronghold in the capital city on Sunday unless Warsaw's mayor manages to convince enough residents to stay away from a vote to remove her from office.
Tusk, who won an unprecedented second term in 2011, has seen his center-right party fall behind the conservative opposition in recent months due to rising dissatisfaction with a government that pushed through some unpopular reforms but has also been seen as failing to deliver on many of its promises.
After several defections from Tusk's Civic Platform (PO), the government is just two seats away from losing its parliamentary majority. It has already lost a recall election in the northern city of Elblag, another former stronghold.
"The loss in Warsaw would not be a tragedy, but it would significantly damage Tusk since Warsaw's mayor is seen as a close ally," said a high-ranking PO official. "The list of blunders by Tusk's advisers and allies will grow."
Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, a former central bank governor and the sole woman in PO's leadership, faces an overwhelming rejection on Sunday, according to opinion polls.
But with surveys showing as many as three-quarters of likely voters in the city of 1.7 million residents planning to support the recall, the key to her survival will be a low voter turnout.
To boot out Gronkiewicz-Waltz, at least 29 percent of Warsaw's adult residents will need to take part. A poll on Thursday showed 32 percent planned to vote on Sunday, with a further 9 percent likely to vote.
Gronkiewicz-Waltz, who is 60 and has run city hall since 2006, faces a barrage of complaints ranging from higher ticket prices for buses and trams, delays in infrastructure projects and a failed overhaul of garbage collection.
"I know this is part of a bigger political game, but I still will vote to get Gronkiewicz-Waltz removed because she hasn't done much good for the city and I want her out," said Karolina Rekosz, a 29-year-old mother of young children.
The feisty mayor, one of few women to flourish at the top of Polish politics, has recently stepped up her campaign to persuade voters to boycott Sunday's vote, announcing a cut in ticket prices and speeding up construction work.
Tabloid newspapers have even accused Warsaw authorities of issuing fewer parking tickets in recent weeks.
Polls indicate that if she survives the recall, Gronkiewicz-Waltz would still be the front-runner to win the 2014 municipal election. She won in 2010 with 54 percent of the votes.
PO insiders said the government could decide to move up next year's polls to quickly return Gronkiewicz-Waltz to city hall.
Analysts say the referendum is also an expression of general dissatisfaction with Tusk and his government after six years in office. Poland barely avoided its first recession in two decades earlier this year as unemployment peaked at a six-year high.
Gronkiewicz-Waltz accuses the opposition parties behind the recall -- ranging from conservative Law and Justice (PiS) to the anti-clerical Your Movement (TR) -- of using the vote mainly to just score political points against Tusk's government.
Spearheading the last stage of the campaign against her is PiS's leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Tusk's long-time political foe. His twin brother Lech served as Warsaw mayor before becoming Poland's president in 2005. He died in a plane crash in 2010.
"A defeat in Warsaw would precipitate further falls for the PO in the polls," said Adam Lipinski, a deputy head of PiS. "Some of its parliamentarians would lose a chance for re-election, which would quicken the collapse of the party."
(Additional reporting by Aleksandra Arendt; Editing by Gareth Jones)