Poland’s opposition leader Donald Tusk has hailed the triumph of democracy as exit polls showed his coalition of parties on track to win a majority in the country’s parliamentary election over the ruling conservative nationalist party Law and Justice (PiS). Tusk, a former European Council president, returned to Polish politics earlier this year to challenge PiS, which has been accused of eroding the rule of law and democratic values during its eight years in power. His Civic Coalition (KO) party ran with Third Way and the New Left on separate tickets but with a shared commitment to restoring ties with Europe and supporting Ukraine.
“Democracy has won … This is the end of the PiS government,” Tusk told party members at a celebration on Sunday evening where he and others wore red hearts on their clothing. He also thanked the voters for their high turnout, which according to the Ipsos exit poll was 63.9 percent, the highest since 1989 when Poland held its first free election after communism.
The exit poll projected that while PiS would emerge as the largest party with approximately 36.8 percent of the vote, roughly equivalent to 200 seats, the KO-led opposition grouping would secure 248 of the 460 seats in Poland’s parliament, enough to form a majority. The official results are expected to be announced from Monday.
PiS concedes defeat but vows to continue its project
The ruling PiS party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, conceded defeat but vowed to continue its project of making Poland more independent from Brussels and more socially just. PiS has built its support base on generous social handouts and a pledge to defend traditional Catholic values from what it sees as foreign influences. It has also clashed with the European Union over its judicial reforms, which critics say undermine the separation of powers and threaten the bloc’s legal order.
“We have to have hope that regardless of whether we are in power or in opposition, our project will continue,” said Kaczynski at the party headquarters in central Warsaw. “We will not let Poland lose [the] right to decide its own fate.”
PiS also reversed its position on Ukraine, apparently believing that Polish voters were growing weary of Russia’s war in the country. PiS initially supported Ukraine’s pro-Western aspirations but later adopted a more hostile stance, accusing it of historical revisionism and denying entry to some Ukrainian activists and journalists.
Poland’s changing position on Ukraine and migration watched closely by EU
As a member of the European Union and NATO, Poland’s changing position on neighbouring Ukraine, and response to people fleeing the conflict, was being closely watched by its allies. Tusk’s victory would see Poland moving closer to European partners and reviving support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. His coalition also pledged to adopt a more humane approach to migration and asylum, in contrast to PiS’s refusal to accept any refugees from war-torn regions.
Poland and Hungary have been at odds with the EU over its migration reform plan, which aims to distribute asylum seekers among member states based on a system of solidarity and responsibility. The two countries have argued that they have the right to protect their borders and national identity from what they perceive as a threat from Muslim migrants.
The EU has also launched legal action against Poland over its controversial disciplinary chamber for judges, which it says undermines judicial independence and poses a risk to the bloc’s common values. The European Court of Justice ordered Poland to suspend the chamber last week, but PiS said it would not comply.
What next for Poland’s political future?
The possible victory of Tusk’s coalition over PiS marks a significant shift in Poland’s political landscape, which has been dominated by the two parties for more than a decade. However, it also poses challenges for the opposition grouping, which will have to overcome its ideological differences and form a stable government that can deliver on its promises.
Tusk has said he does not intend to become prime minister, but rather act as a mentor and mediator for his coalition partners. He has also ruled out any coalition with other parties, such as the agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL) or the far-right Confederation, which both crossed the five percent threshold to enter parliament according to the exit poll.
The opposition will also have to face the loyal base of PiS supporters, who may not accept the election outcome and continue to back Kaczynski’s vision of a sovereign and conservative Poland. PiS will also retain control of the presidency until 2025, when incumbent Andrzej Duda’s term ends.