WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Poland’s populist ruling party has suffered a blow in the country’s mayoral races, with early results showing it failing to win control of any of the nation’s largest cities.
Final results from Sunday’s local runoff elections are expected Monday afternoon. But unofficial results reported in Polish media already show that in 107 of the country’s cities and largest towns, the ruling Law and Justice party is expected to win only six mayor’s seats, the largest of which is Zamosc, population 65,000.
It is a sign that Law and Justice, while still popular with its conservative rural base after winning a national election in 2015, struggles to find support in urban areas despite a booming economy and cash handouts to families.
For now, the ruling party seems unlikely to win the super majority in the parliament that it seeks in Poland’s national elections in 2019.
Compared to the last local election in 2014, Law and Justice lost five cities and gained just one. The party, however, was the clear winner two weeks ago in elections to regional assemblies.
The opposition extended its control over city and town councils, although most mayoral posts were won by independent candidates.
In the first round of local voting on Oct. 21, an opposition coalition led by the centrist Civic Platform won outright in the capital, Warsaw, and in other key cities including Poznan and Lodz.
In runoff races on Sunday, opposition politicians followed up with landslide victories in other prestigious cities, including Krakow, Gdansk and Kielce.
The results confirmed the strong opposition of urban Poles to Law and Justice, which has been accused of violating democratic standards with attempts to take control of the courts and turn public media into a party propaganda tool. The Law and Justice government has also been in almost constant conflict with the European Union over democratic standards.
The results in Poland’s mayoral races have proven a huge boost to Civic Platform and other opposition parties. However, many analysts warned that their support actually comes from votes against the ruling party and that if they want a chance of governing the country they will need to increase their appeal.
Overall, the elections highlight the deep divisions in Poland.
On one side are the urban, liberal Poles who feel that the ruling populists are destroying their country’s hard-won democracy. On the other are conservatives – often older, rural and less educated – who appreciate the ruling party’s attempts to preserve traditional Catholic values and resist what many see as corrupting influences from Western Europe.