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Poland's local election results preview tight EU elections

Conservative Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, right, joins supporters during Poland's local and regional elections in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday April 7, 2024.
Conservative Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, right, joins supporters during Poland's local and regional elections in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday April 7, 2024. Copyright Associated Press
Copyright Associated Press
By Euronews with AP
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Local elections in Poland, where former ruling party Law and Justice won by a slight percentage margin, could serve as an early indication for the results of June's EU elections.

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An exit poll released after Poland's local and regional elections on Sunday showed Prime Minister Donald Tusk's pro-EU party trailing the conservative opposition party that governed Poland for eight years until December. But the socially liberal mayor of Warsaw, a Tusk ally, easily won another term in the capital.

Sunday's elections were the first electoral test for Tusk's coalition government nearly four months since it took power. Poles voted for mayors, local councilors and representatives to the nation's 16 regional assemblies.

The exit polls have a small margin of error and final results are not expected until Monday. But they indicated that Law and Justice, the conservative party that governed Poland from 2015-2023, remains a political force to be reckoned with in the nation of 38 million people.

According to the Ipsos exit poll, Law and Justice won 33.7% of votes and Tusk's Civic Coalition won 31.9% in elections to the regional assemblies.

Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski declared victory, and said the result was a message to those who had counted the party out.

“As Mark Twain once said, the news of my death is somewhat premature,” Kaczynski said, loosely quoting the American author.

Runoff votes will take place April 21 in cases where mayoral candidates did not win at least 50% of the vote.

Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski will avoid a runoff after winning nearly 60% of the vote, according to the exit poll. Another Tusk ally, the mayor of Gdansk, also won outright.

For many, the results of Poland's local elections serve as a prelude to gauging the political mood ahead of the Europarliamentary elections. Poles feel that no election is detached from the European affairs, and every European election affects local ones.

"I always vote for those who accept that we belong to Europe. For me, both [affiliations] are related and obvious," one voter, Antoni, told Euronews.

Voters on the other side of the political spectrum want to use their vote to signal their Euroscepticism to the EU institutions.

"I sent a message, a kind of warning message, "STOP" one as simply, yes, we are in the European Union, but we have to remember that Brexit happened," Jan, another voter, told Euronews.

According to a Euronews/Ipsos poll, the right-wing parties in Europe are gaining strength and popularity. Poland could exemplify this trend.

Several other parties trailed the two main groups, including the Third Way coalition with a projected 13.5%, the Left with 6.8% and and the radical right-wing Confederation party with 7.5%.

The Third Way and the Left belong to Tusk's coalition at the national level. Together they won the last national election. The result spelled the end of eight years of rule by Law and Justice, which was accused by the European Union of violating democratic standards with changes to the judicial system and public media.

Tusk won on promises to reverse many of those changes and is trying to implement that programme, but it isn't easy. For example, a promise to liberalise the strict abortion law is being hampered by conservatives in Tusk’s own coalition.

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