Poland’s ruling nationalists suffer defeat in local race

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s ruling nationalist party has suffered a loss in a mayoral race in a Polish city, a vote that was being watched for signs of how strong the party’s support is after nearly six years of governing the country.

The next general elections are scheduled for 2023 in the central European nation, but there has been speculation recently about the possibility of early elections due to friction within the right-wing coalition led by the Law and Justice party.

Konrad Fijolek, a candidate supported jointly by opposition parties, won a landslide victory in the mayoral race in Rzeszow, the capital of the southeastern province of Podkarpackie, a highly conservative region where Law and Justice has done well in the past.

Fijolek won over 56%, avoiding a need for a runoff vote, while the candidate from Law and Justice, Ewa Leniart, got almost 24%. Two other candidates, one from another governing coalition party and one a far-right candidate, got around 10% each.

The election comes as the ruling party, popular for its welfare spending, plans even more spending and higher taxes on those with higher incomes.

The leader of a small party in the ruling coalition, Jaroslaw Gowin, called the results a warning for the government. Gowin, viewed as a moderate, has often been at odds with Law and Justice — one of the sources of recent infighting.

“Attacking the middle class, raising taxes, centralism instead of self-governance and disrespecting coalition partners are paving the way for the opposition to take power,” Gowin wrote on Twitter.

The result was hailed by opposition politicians, who saw it as an encouraging sign that they stand a chance of defeating Law and Justice in the future — after a string of defeats in the past six years — if they manage to unite.

“All the opposition parties, side by side, supported this candidate, giving such enormous energy from the very beginning,” Cezary Tomczyk, a lawmaker with the centrist opposition party Civic Platform, told Polsat News. “When we said that unification made sense, we showed it with examples like these.”

He said the victory in Rzeszow was the most important victory for the opposition since the socially liberal politician Rafal Trzaskowski won the election to be mayor of Warsaw, the capital, in 2018.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki attributed the loss of the ruling party’s candidate to the fact that another candidate from the right-wing coalition was on the ballot. He said the party would learn its lesson about the need to remain united.

Law and Justice is a nationalist and conservative party that has governed Poland since 2015. Critics accuse it of eroding democratic norms with its tightening control over the judiciary and media, while independent Polish media have covered alleged corruption among party officials and their allies.

Law and Justice denies all those allegations, insisting that it is fulfilling the voters’ will by reasserting national interests and promoting the country’s traditionally conservative values.