WARSAW—Poland’s ruling euroskeptics could see their firm grip on power loosened over the next couple years as liberal, city-dwellers, angry at the government’s democratic record, are voting against them in growing numbers, regional elections showed.
Final results of Sunday’s nationwide ballot for city hall chiefs and provincial assemblies will be published Oct. 23 at the earliest, the electoral commission said Oct. 22. But exit polls showed Law and Justice (PiS) made only limited gains and lost a high-profile contest for Warsaw mayor.
While still more popular than the centrist opposition around the country overall, the PiS government saw its support fall in big cities, traditionally bastions of liberalism in Poland.
The outcome lays bare mounting divisions in the country over PiS policies toward the judiciary and media that critics at home and abroad say point to a tilt towards authoritarianism.
PiS says its institutional reforms aim at making Poland a fairer society that is less dependent on the European Union.
The election is part of a larger battle for Europe’s soul as Brexit and Hungary’s Viktor Orban—who, like PiS, believes the EU’s powers should be reined in—shake up the bloc and conservative parties make gains across the continent.
An exit poll by Ipsos pollster showed PiS scoring 33 percent of votes for provincial assemblies, against 26.7 percent for a centrist coalition.
If repeated in the parliamentary election, the provincial assembly results would mean PiS could struggle to retain its grip on power without entering into a coalition.
Underscoring tensions over Poland’s relationship with the EU and the country’s contested judiciary reforms, on Oct 22, the Supreme Court urged judges forcibly retired by PiS to return to work.
Its call follows a decision by the European Court of Justice that Warsaw should suspend an overhaul of the top court and reinstate the forcibly retired judges.