The leader of Poland's ruling right-wing party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, casts his ballot in local elections that were the test of support for the party, whose policies have produced street protests and repeated clashes with European Union leaders,in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Exit poll: Polish populists make some gains in local votes

October 21, 2018 - 2:51 pm

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Polish governing populist party that has repeatedly clashed with European Union institutions made some gains in local elections on Sunday, according to an exit poll, which also said that a pro-EU opposition candidate won Warsaw's mayoral race outright in the first round.

The Ispos survey said that Rafal Trzaskowski, a former European lawmaker and Civic Platform member, garnered 51.4 percent support and will become Warsaw mayor without having to take part in a Nov. 4 runoff.

In lower level elections for provincial assemblies, the ruling conservative Law and Justice party received the highest backing with 32.3 percent, according to the exit poll.

The full official results will be presented late Tuesday or Wednesday by the State Electoral Commission.

The elections Sunday were the first nationwide test of support for the Law and Justice party, whose policies have produced street protests and repeated clashes with EU leaders.

Nationwide turnout was 51.3 percent, higher than in 2014, according to the exit poll, which questioned voters as they were leaving the polling stations in 1,160 locations across Poland.

The election was for offices ranging from city mayors to village councilors. The ruling right-wing Law and Justice party is hoping to strengthen its firm grip on power, which has been buoyed by handing out social benefits and questioning how much authority the EU should have over member nations.

EU leaders say changes the ruling party has made to Poland's judiciary threaten the rule of law in the country and have triggered an unprecedented sanctioning procedure, which the opposition says is undermining Poland's position.

The vote Sunday will also measure the strength of the opposition, which is centered on the pro-EU Civic Platform party that governed Poland for eight years before Law and Justice came to power in 2015.

Campaigning had targeted Poland's largest cities — such as Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk — which are traditionally pro-EU, and where the opposition is in control of local governments. Any losses in the cities would be seen as a defeat for the opposition.

In Warsaw, in a rare sight, voters had to stand in lines at many voting stations to get their ballots. They said that voter mobilization was very high in the race between the EU-skeptic and pro-EU main political forces.

"I have never seen so many people voting, this is a good thing. The question is will this be enough for (pro-EU Civic) Platform to keep power" in Warsaw, said Aneta Benedyk, as she stood in line in southern Warsaw.

Trzaskowski was running against the ruling party's candidate, Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, who attracted attention by heading a special commission for reversing housing decisions by the city's Town Hall under Civic Platform.

Sunday is the first round of voting. Mayoral candidates who don't win at least 50 percent of the vote will face runoffs on Nov. 4.

New rules have introduced see-through ballot boxes and separate committees will handle the balloting and the vote count. Full official results are expected late Tuesday or Wednesday.

Poland's local elections kick off a string of crucial votes that include the European Parliament vote in May, the national parliament vote in the fall of 2019 and Poland's presidential election in the spring of 2020.

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