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Polish ruling populists take majority in regional assemblies

October 25, 2018
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Opposition supporters react as first exit polls are announced in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Poland's ruling conservative Law and Justice party, whose policies have drawn massive street protests and repeated clashes with its European Union partners, faces a major test of support in Sunday's local elections, the first in a string of votes that can strengthen or chip its firm grip on power. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s ruling populist party, Law and Justice, won 254 of the 552 seats in regional assemblies in local elections last weekend, with 194 going to the key opposition coalition, the state electoral commission said Thursday.

The official results indicate that Law and Justice, which won the national elections in 2015, remains the most popular party in the country despite conflicts with the European Union and accusations of eroding the democratic system of checks and balances. Its approval has been boosted by generous welfare spending, its emphasis on traditional values and a booming economy.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hailed the results, saying they represent the strongest showing the party has made yet in the history of local elections.

“The trust of millions of Poles confirms that we are heading in the right direction,” he said. “This is a solid foundation on which to build a better homeland.”

However, the pro-EU opposition coalition, a bloc led by Civic Platform, which ruled for eight years until 2015, won much greater support in the cities. The coalition, which also includes the smaller Modern party, won several mayoral posts, including in Warsaw, in Sunday’s first round of voting. It holds leads in several races to be decided in runoffs on Nov. 4.

Having won 46 percent of seats nationwide, the ruling party has control of six of 16 regional assemblies — up from one. Those are mostly in the southeast, but it will have to seek coalition partners in three others. So far, no political force has announced its readiness to cooperate with Law and Justice. 

One of the key roles of the regional assemblies is to decide how to distribute EU subsidies, which have been a major force driving Poland’s development.

The main opposition bloc won 35 percent of the seats and opened coalition talks with the agricultural Polish People’s Party, which emerged as the third strongest force. Jointly, they could control many regional assemblies when they take office in November.

In percentage terms, Law and Justice won 34 percent of the votes to the regional assemblies, and the opposition coalition nearly 28 percent — each group faring slightly better than exit polls had predicted. On the other hand, some of the smaller parties did slightly worse than predicted.

The Polish People’s Party won just over 13 percent, and the Democratic Left Alliance, founded under democracy by former communists, had only about 5.5 percent, representing a sharp decline.

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