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Poland’s Liberal Opposition Triumphs in Legislative Elections

Workers hoisting campaign banner of ruling Law and Justice leader and Poland's most powerful politician, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is running in crucial parliamentary election, in Sandomierz, Poland, on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. At stake in Sunday's vote are the health of the nation's democracy, strained under the ruling conservative Law and Justice party, and the foreign alliances of a country on NATO's eastern flank that has been a crucial ally. The main challenger is centrist Civic Coalition. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The centrist pro-European opposition won the parliamentary majority on Sunday in Poland, defeating the ruling nationalist populists and the far right together, in legislative elections deemed crucial for the country’s European future.

If these results are confirmed, these elections should put an end to the eight years of government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party (PiS).

The three opposition parties, the Civic Coalition (KO), the Christian Democrats of the Third Way and the Left, together won 248 seats in the parliament of 460 deputies, against 212 seats for the PiS and the Confederation (far right ) united.

“Poland won, democracy won, we drove them out of power (…) it’s the end of this bad period, it’s the end of the rule of PiS”, declared, immediately after publication polls, KO President Donald Tusk.

Aged 66, Mr Tusk was Prime Minister of Poland between 2007 and 2014 and President of the European Council between 2014 and 2019.

He promised to restore good relations with the European Union and unblock European funds frozen by Brussels due to disputes that arose during the PiS government’s two terms.

Mr Tusk also promised to liberalize the right to abortion, a major point of disagreement with the PiS government which has emphasized Catholic values.

The leader of PiS, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, welcomed the relative success of his movement which will have 200 parliamentary seats, but without a majority to form a government.

“Whether we are in power or in opposition, (…) we will not allow Poland to be betrayed,” he declared.

According to Stanislaw Mocek, political scientist and president of Collegium Civitas University, there is now “a chance for an opposition government to emerge.” “I think this is actually the end of the PiS government (…) It is a chance for us to rebuild our position, above all in Europe,” he said.

Michal Baranowski, analyst at the German Marshall Fund, estimated that Poland could now “return to the decision-making center of the European Union”. He added that the exit poll pointed to the possibility of a “stable opposition government.”

However, analysts also warned that any government coalition formed by the opposition could face frequent conflicts with President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally.

“It’s time to change”
The exit poll numbers do not give potential opposition allies the three-fifths majority required to overturn presidential vetoes.

Turnout was high – with the exit poll estimating the national rate at 72.9%.

“The participation rate is probably, by far, the highest in the history of the Third Republic”, in 1989 this rate being 62.7%, declared to the press Sylwester Marciniak, president of the National Electoral Commission .

Many voters expressed frustration with the government. “It’s time for change,” Ewa Bankowska, a 43-year-old woman working in finance, told AFP as she voted in Halinow, a town just outside Warsaw. “I’m concerned about the economy. I would like us to grow and the government to stop spending money it doesn’t have.”

But Dorota Zbig, a 57-year-old nurse, said the last years of the PiS government “have been very good for me and my family.”

“Definitely” a deal

To form a coalition government, the KO, the Third Way and the Left must still be able to agree, but their leaders have already declared their willingness to do so.

“We will probably wait around twelve hours for the official results (…), we will then sit down to discuss and we will certainly reach an agreement,” assured Donald Tusk.

During the campaign, PiS pledged to continue its controversial reforms to the justice system which it says are aimed at rooting out corruption but which the EU sees as an attack on democracy.

The campaign was marked by violent personal attacks against Mr. Tusk from those in power who accused him of representing the interests of Berlin, Moscow and Brussels.

kyiv and its Western allies are closely observing these elections, after the recent election in Slovakia of a government hostile to aid to Ukraine.

Poland is one of kyiv’s main supporters and has welcomed a million Ukrainian refugees onto its soil, but weariness is growing among Poles.

The PiS government fell out with Ukraine by imposing an embargo on imports of its grain, arguing the need to protect Polish farmers.

This article is originally published on fr.euronews.com

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