M. Continuo

Poland's main opposition leads in regional vote - exit poll

By Marcin Goettig

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's largest opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), has taken the lead in regional elections, an exit poll showed, signalling a possible shake-up ahead of a national vote next year.

PiS, which opposes Poland joining the euro, had 31.5 percent in Sunday's vote for provincial assembly members, against 27.3 percent for the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party and 17 percent for junior coalition partner PSL, according to the Ipsos survey.

The figures suggest PiS could was heading towards it first victory in a nationwide election in nine years. PO's popularity has suffered from secret recordings leaked to the media in June, which embarrassed some government officials.

"The victory of ... PiS is a warning sign for the current PO-PSL ruling coalition," said Michal Dybula, an economist at BNP Paribas.

"In order to win back lost popularity, the main ruling party PO may decide for softer budget spending policies in the run-up to the 2015 parliamentary elections," he said.

PiS sees a strong role of the state in the economy, opposes abortion and wants to maintain the Catholic church's central role in public life.

The more socially-liberal and business-friendly Civic Platform wants to adopt the euro at some point in the future.

"This is the first step towards very deep changes in Poland," PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told journalists.

In the last regional elections for provincial assembly members in 2010, PO won 30.9 percent of the votes, followed by PiS on 23.1 percent.

The regional elections are held every four years to chose mayors, provincial assembly members and other local authorities.

Analysts say the ruling party could get a boost from the expected re-election next year of current President Bronislaw Komorowski, an ally of PO. Surveys show about 80 percent of Poles say they trust him.

"Perhaps Komorowski will take over the initiative in the ruling coalition camp," said political analyst Aleksander Smolar. "The PO camp would have to accept his informal leadership, but this is the biggest chance (that PO has)."

The state election commission PKW said on Monday that the release of official regional results will be delayed because of technical problems.

(Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Additional reporting by Wiktor Szary and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Andrew Heavens)