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When the IBS exit poll results started to flow in shortly after 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, it was already clear: Konrad Fijołek, a member of the social-democratic New Left party (formerly knowns as the Democratic Left Alliance- SLD) has won a landslide victory in the election for mayor of Rzeszów, the metropolitan center of south-eastern Poland.

The joint opposition candidate received 56.51 percent of all the votes, defeating his opponents in the first round. Ewa Leniart, a candidate of the ruling Law and Justice party, got 23.62 percent. Grzegorz Braun from the far-right populist Confederation- 9.15 percent. Despite a strong endorsement from the outgoing mayor Tadeusz Ferenc, a member of Law and Justice’s junior coalition partner United Poland, Marcin Warchoł, ended up with a score of 10.72 percent.

Konrad Fijołek: Unity wins!

Once the initial results were announced, a delighted and moved Konrad Fijołek thanked the citizens of Rzeszów: - This wonderful atmosphere has been with us all throughout the campaign. It was not any single party or political faction that has won the election. Unity has won the election. In Poland, where divisions are so apparent, only unity will win. Our return to unity and democracy begins here. I hope that what just happened Rzeszów sends a clear signal to the entire country that we can unite around important ideas- he said.

- The mayoral race in Rzeszów showed that the support of political parties alone is not enough. Sure, it is impossible to win elections without them. But if you throw local government officials into the mix, victory is guaranteed- Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw and deputy chairman of the oppositional Civic Platform, echoed Mr Fijołek’s message of unity.

Many pundits and opposition politicians raced to draw analogies between the local election Rzeszów and national politics. - I have great faith that this spirit of cooperation will radiate beyond Rzeszów. We have proved that joint action by the opposition is the key to success- said the leader of Civic Platform (Poland’s largest opposition party), Borys Budka. - The election in Rzeszów is a good sign for all those who are losing hope, who think that this propaganda machine is something that cannot be defeated. It can- he added.

Ruling coalition left uneasy over electoral defeat

Mr Fijołek’s landslide victory brought a painful reckoning for the ruling camp. Jarosław Gowin, the deputy prime minister and leader of Law and Justice’s junior coalition partner Agreement (Porozumienie) blamed the ruling coalition’s defeat on PiS. "Attacking the middle class, raising taxes, a drive towards administrative centralization instead of self-government, and disrespect for coalition partners are paving the way for the opposition to take power"- he Tweeted.

In an interview with TVN 24, Law and Justice senator Jan Maria Jackowski said that the Rzeszów election is a "red light for the ruling camp", pointing out that the south-eastern region of Poland "is actually supposed to be a right-wing stronghold".

According to the philosopher and sociologist Prof. Janusz Majcherk, Mr Fijołek's victory is "an absolute and indisputable indication for the opposition that uniting forces against the ruling camp gives it an overwhelming advantage".

- For PiS, the consolation prize is that their candidate had a better result than Mr Warchoł, it seems to me that this is what they were actually fighting for- said Jarosław Flis, a political scientist from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

- If the initial results are officially confirmed, our friends from United Poland should stop and think for a while. The election in Rzeszów clearly shows that the ruling coalition wins when it is united and loses when it is divided," said Law and Justice Executive Committee chairman Krzysztof Sobolewski as quoted by the Polish Press Agency.

During his Monday visit to Węgrów (east-central Poland), Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was asked to comment on the mayoral election results. Mr Morawiecki congratulated the winner, but then compared his result with the last election, saying that despite a victory in the first round, the end result should not inspire excessive optimism.

- I congratulate the winner, but it is also worth noting that Mr Fijołek, who was a candidate backed by the entire opposition, received fever votes than the outgoing mayor Mr Tadeusz Ferenc in 2018, and he was also supported by the entire opposition. So, something in that camp clearly did not play out the way they had hoped it would- the Prime Minister concluded.

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