Poland election: Law and Justice party on course to be ousted from power

Poland’s ruling populists appear to be heading for electoral defeat in what would be one of the most consequential European political turnarounds of recent years. With the majority of votes counted, results suggest an opposition led by Donald Tusk should have a path to create a new governing coalition.

A Tusk government would probably transform Poland’s domestic political agenda and restart relations with Brussels, which had frayed over PiS’s attacks on the independent judiciary and other rule-of-law issues.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is on course to receive the largest number of votes, but Tusk’s Civic Coalition together with two other opposition parties should have a route to a parliamentary majority.

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Tusk, who was Polish prime minister between 2007 and 2014 and then became European Council president for five years, declared victory within minutes of the polls closing on Sunday, based on an exit poll. “It’s the end of the evil times, it’s the end of the PiS rule,” he told supporters.

By Monday evening, results had been declared from more than 95% of electoral precincts. PiS had 36.1% of the vote and Civil Coalition were on 30%. The centre-right Third Way and leftist Lewica were on 14.4% and 8.4% respectively, suggesting that between them they would be able to form a coalition that secured more than the 231 seats required for a majority

However, it could be up to two months before Tusk can form a government, as the PiS-aligned president, Andrzej Duda, may give PiS time to attempt to form a coalition, as the largest party.

The results are expected to be finalised by midday on Tuesday. The count was slower than expected thanks to a record turnout of more than 70%, the highest since the fall of communism in the country. There were long queues at polling stations on Sunday, and some voters in the city of Wrocław stood in line until nearly 3am waiting to vote, six hours after the polls officially closed.

The result was “even more astounding given that the government in many ways rigged the playing field of the election,” said Jarosław Kuisz, the author of an upcoming book on recent Polish politics.

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A preliminary monitoring report from the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) released on Monday found that PiS “enjoyed clear advantage through its undue influence over the use of state resources and the public media”.

The campaign, which the OSCE said was “characterised by the wide use of intolerant, xenophobic and misogynistic rhetoric”, was brutal. PiS claimed Tusk was a foreign stooge who would destroy the country, while Tusk highlighted the damage done to Poland over the past eight years by the PiS government and portrayed the vote as the “last chance” to save democracy in the country.

President Duda now has the prerogative when it comes to offering the first attempt to form a coalition. The Civic Coalition MP Cezary Tomczyk said on Monday that Duda should give the opposition the chance to form a government first: “We demand from the president that the democratic camp be able to choose a candidate for prime minister … The natural candidate for prime minister is Donald Tusk,” he told Poland’s TVN24.

People queueing to vote in WrocławPeople queueing to vote in Wrocław. Photograph: Krzysztof Zatycki/Zuma Press Wire/Shutterstock

Before the vote, however, Duda said he would turn first to the party who received the most parliamentary seats. On Monday, Duda said only that the high turnout showed the strength of Polish democracy, adding that he would “wait calmly” for the final result.

Duda could delay the opposition for several weeks while PiS attempts to build a government. PiS figures on Monday claimed that they would enter talks with other parties aimed at building a workable coalition, but all other parties have ruled out working with PiS and they do not appear to have a route to a third term in office.

During its eight years in power, PiS has been accused of politicising many state bodies, including the chamber of the supreme court, which ratifies election results. Many opposition members are wary of possible attempts to undermine the vote in the coming days by Jarosław Kaczyński, the 74-year-old PiS chair, who has dominated Polish politics for the last decade.

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Borys Budka, head of the Civil Coalition parliamentary group, said on Sunday night he did not believe PiS was in any state to contest the vote using legal or other means. “I’m not sure Kaczyński is a person who can make a revolution now. He is not very strong. He looks very tired, and even if they try any tricks, it wouldn’t be something which changed the result,” he said.

However, even if Tusk is able to form a government, analysts said the fact that a pro-PiS president who has veto power will be in office until 2025 will provide a challenge for any legislative agenda.

“The president is only the start of it. Law and Justice have left a legal minefield, and Tusk and all of us are going to discover where they have left those mines only with time,” said Kuisz.