Municipal Ballot Loss Revives Divisions in Polish Coalition

The row within Poland’s coalition government intensified after an opposition candidate won municipal elections in a region known for its vast support for the ruling Law & Justice party.

Konrad Fijolek won 57% of Sunday’s vote to become the new mayor of Rzeszow, official results showed Monday. He defeated governing-party candidates Ewa Leniart and Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol.

The result shows that a united opposition can compete with Law & Justice, which remains well ahead in nationwide opinion polls midway through its second term in power. So far, there’s been little appetite by opposition parties to band together before the next scheduled general election in 2023.

Rzeszow is the capital of the Podkarpacie region, where 62% of voters backed Law & Justice in the 2019 election. Despite some erosion of support during the coronavirus pandemic, the government remains broadly popular there.

Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, himself a leader of a satellite group in the three-party coalition, attacked Law & Justice for not doing enough to keep the ruling bloc together.

“Attacking the middle class, raising taxes, centralism instead of self-governance and disrespect for its coalition partners all pave the way for the opposition to take power,” he said.

The ruling coalition has for months been quarreling over issues ranging from European Union policies to top jobs in state-run companies.

That’s raised questions over whether the coalition, which has 232 out of parliament’s 460 seats, can effectively count on mustering a majority during contested votes. To boost its hand, the ruling party signed a cooperation deal with an opposition party with four lawmakers.

“This is a red light -- we lost in the heart of the right-wing enclave,” Law & Justice senator Jan Maria Jackowski told private broadcaster TVN. “The coalition came into this election divided and I hope that we’ll draw the right conclusions.”

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