Local vote in Poland tests support for ruling conservatives

Polish voters were casting ballots in local elections Sunday that were the first nationwide test of support for the conservative ruling party, whose policies have produced street protests and repeated clashes with European Union leaders.

The election is for offices from city mayors to village councilors. The ruling right-wing Law and Justice party is hoping to strengthen its firm grip on power, which has been buoyed by handing out social benefits and questioning how much authority the EU should have over member nations.

EU leaders say changes the ruling party has made to Poland's judiciary threaten the rule of law in the country and have triggered a sanctioning procedure.

The vote Sunday will also measure the strength of the opposition, which is centered on the pro-EU Civic Platform party that governed Poland for eight years before Law and Justice came to power in 2015.

The campaign focus has been on Poland's largest cities — such as Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk — which are traditionally pro-EU, and where the opposition is in control of local governments. Any losses in the cities would be seen as a defeat for the opposition.

Sunday is the first round of voting. If mayoral candidates do not win 50 percent of the vote, runoffs will be held on Nov. 4.

New rules have introduced see-through ballot boxes and separate committees will handle the balloting and the vote count. Full official results are expected late Tuesday or Wednesday.

Poland's local elections kick off a string of crucial votes that include the European Parliament vote in May, the national parliament vote in the fall of 2019 and Poland's presidential election in the spring of 2020.