Conservative opposition leads Prime Minister Tusk’s party in Poland’s local races, exit poll says

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — An exit poll released after Poland’s local and regional elections 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.

Tusk called Trzaskowski the “hero” of the evening but acknowledged that conservative regions that favor his opponents appeared more mobilized. He said he believed some of his usual supporters might not have voted due to the good weather, with Sunday being an exceptionally warm and sunny day.

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 fall 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 program, but it isn’t easy. For example, a promise to liberalize the strict abortion law is being hampered by conservatives in Tusk’s own coalition.

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