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Poland’s political shift to the center is confirmed with final vote count

The ultra-conservative Law and Justice, which has governed the country for eight years, won slightly over 35%, making it the single party with the most votes. But the party and its leader Jarosław Kaczyński lost their majority

Donald Tusk addresses voters after learning the results of the exit polls in the Polish elections on Sunday.
Donald Tusk addresses voters after learning the results of the exit polls in the Polish elections on Sunday.Piotr Nowak (EFE)

Three opposition parties that vowed to restore democratic standards in Poland together won over 54% of the votes in the nation’s weekend parliamentary election, putting them in a position to take power, according to a complete ballot count reported Tuesday.

The conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has governed the country for eight turbulent years, won slightly over 35% of the votes, making it the single party with the most votes. But the party and its leader Jarosław Kaczyński lost their majority in parliament and appeared to have no way to hold onto power. The official ballot announced by the National Electoral Commission aligns closely with an exit poll released after voting ended Sunday. Turnout was nearly 75%, a record that surpassed the 63% turnout of 1989, a vote that triggered the collapse of the oppressive Soviet-backed communist system.

As the party with the most votes, PiS will do everything it can to secure a third consecutive term despite not having the numbers for it, in a situation that is reminiscent of the failed investiture of Alberto Núñez Feijóo in Spain. It is up to Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, to tap candidates to try to form a government. His closeness to Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s party suggests that he will invite him to try first, despite not having enough support. The process until a new executive is in place can extend until December. Duda on Monday issued a message thanking citizens for the high turnout.

The result was a huge victory for Donald Tusk, the head of the largest opposition group, Civic Coalition. Tusk could return to his past role as Polish prime minister, a job he held from 2007-14. He also served as the European Council president, a top job in the bloc, from 2014-19.

But Kaczynski’s party is not going to give up power easily. “Days of struggle and tension await us,” the deputy prime minister said after learning about the exit polls. Kaczynski is known for his generosity during negotiations and for seeking support even from lawmakers on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. But even if he secured the votes of the far-right Confederation, an anti-establishment party that insists it would never enter a coalition with PiS, he would still need the support of 20 more legislators.

Members of the ultra-conservative party are pointing as a possible partner to the Polish People’s Party (PSL), an agrarian formation that is part of the Third Way coalition together with Polska 2050. “If PiS receives the mandate to form a government, those conversations will take place,” said Joachim Brudzinski, PiS chief of staff, when asked about that possibility. But the PSL spokesperson Milosz Motyka was quick to pour cold water over any possibility of agreement.: “Forget it. For those lies, for those slanders, for hating and spitting on us all, for the thefts and all the scandals... We will hold you responsible!” he wrote on the social network X (formerly Twitter).

Difficulties

Experts estimate that the formation of a new liberal government could take several weeks. Jacek Kucharczyk, president of the Institute of Public Affairs think tank, warns that in the meantime “PiS will continue to control the institutions, at least until the new parliament is formed. I am sure that they will be extremely creative in making it difficult to form an opposition government, and if it happens, they will make life very difficult for this government.”

As Kucharczyk recalls, after eight years in power, Kaczynski’s party has control over the Constitutional Court — with the power to veto any legislation — and the Supreme Court, which must validate the electoral results in 90 days. The seats gained by the liberal parties are not enough, furthermore, to reverse the presidential veto of the new laws, for which 3/5 of the chamber, 276 seats, are necessary. The president has used this prerogative even against PiS, so it could complicate life for a new government if he decides to use it before his term ends in May 2025.

In any case, a red carpet does not await the new coalition. Political analyst and writer Aleksander Smolar notes that it will not be easy for “four heterogeneous parties with very ambitious leaders” to reaching an internal understanding. But Smolar trusts that the experience of eight years in the opposition has taught them to act together and ensure, to begin with, “an improvement in relations with the European Union, with Germany, with other partners such as France and with Ukraine.” In domestic politics, he believes that they will take immediate measures to change the leadership of entities controlled by PiS and used for partisan purposes, such as the public broadcaster. This expert believes that the coalition, when it manages to get going, “will not find it easy to govern, because PiS leaves the country in a very bad state.”

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