Poland’s parliamentary election on October 15, 2023, has resulted in a strong possibility of a victory for the Polish opposition, ending an eight-year rule by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, according to exit polls. Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition, along with smaller parties Third Way and Left, could secure a majority in the 460-seat parliament, marking a significant political shift.
Warsaw, Poland, October 16, 2023: Poland’s parliamentary election held on October 15, 2023, has painted a picture of significant change on the nation’s political canvas. Exit polls suggest a clear path for the Polish opposition, which, if the numbers hold, would bring an end to the eight-year rule of the populist Law and Justice (PiS) party.
The heart of this election was a contest between the PiS party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and the opposition, spearheaded by Donald Tusk, former EU chief and Poland’s prime minister between 2007 and 2014. Exit polls indicate that Tusk’s Civic Coalition is positioned to win 163 seats in the 460-seat parliament, a significant step toward the majority they seek.
Civic Coalition’s path to victory doesn’t rest solely on its shoulders. Two smaller parties, Third Way and Left, are expected to secure 55 and 30 seats, respectively, according to the exit polls. Together, these three parties could amass a majority of 248 seats, effectively ending PiS’s reign. In contrast, the Ipsos exit poll predicts PiS to win 200 seats, and their potential far-right coalition partner, Confederation, to secure only 12 seats.
In the face of these exit poll results, Donald Tusk was jubilant, declaring, “Poland has won, democracy has won.” He pledged to restore harmonious relations with the European Union and unlock EU funds that have been frozen due to disputes during PiS’s eight-year tenure. Moreover, Tusk has promised to address the highly contentious issue of abortion legalization, a move that stands in stark contrast to the PiS government’s emphasis on traditional Catholic values.
While the exit polls indicate a substantial shift, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the PiS party, expressed hope that his party could still form the next government. He vowed to continue pushing forward with their program, despite the emerging opposition coalition.
Political analysts have varied opinions on this election’s outcome. Stanislaw Mocek, a political analyst at Collegium Civitas, stated, “I think that this is actually the end of the PiS government.” Michal Baranowski, an analyst from the German Marshall Fund, suggested that Poland could now “return to the decision-making center of the European Union.”
However, analysts also caution that an opposition government might face challenges from President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally. The exit poll numbers do not provide the required three-fifths majority to overturn presidential vetoes.
This election saw a remarkable level of civic participation, with the exit poll estimating a national turnout of 72.9 percent, a record for Poland’s post-communist history. Sylwester Marciniak, head of the National Electoral Office, noted that some polling stations even ran out of ballot papers due to the substantial influx of voters.
Many voters expressed their motivations for change. Ewa Bankowska, a 43-year-old working in finance, stated, “It’s time for a change. I’m concerned about the economy. I would like us to develop and for the government to stop spending money it does not have.” However, others, like Dorota Zbig, a 57-year-old nurse, shared that the last few years under the PiS government had been positive for them and their families, hoping for a reasonable outcome in the election.
Throughout the campaign, the PiS party had vowed to implement controversial judiciary reforms, which it claimed were necessary to combat corruption. However, the European Union argued that these reforms threatened democracy. A potential coalition partner for PiS was the far-right Confederation, a party advocating for an end to Poland’s substantial support for Ukraine and a staunchly anti-migrant stance. Nevertheless, Confederation publicly ruled out such an alliance, and analysts believed it unlikely due to enduring tensions between the two parties.
This election campaign was marked by personal attacks on Donald Tusk by the PiS party, accusing him of working in the interests of Germany, Russia, and the EU. In return, PiS ramped up anti-migrant rhetoric, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki emphasizing the need to protect Polish culture against illegal immigrants.
Poland’s support for Ukraine has been a significant aspect of its foreign policy, with the nation being a leading advocate for Ukraine in the EU and NATO. Poland has also welcomed approximately one million Ukrainian refugees. However, there is growing fatigue among many Poles regarding this stance. Furthermore, tensions have arisen between Poland and Ukraine over a grain import ban aimed at safeguarding Polish farmers.
As these exit poll results become reality, Poland faces a pivotal moment in its political landscape. The transition from PiS rule to a potential opposition government ushers in a period of change, but it may not be without its challenges, both domestically and internationally. The coming days and weeks will likely be instrumental in shaping Poland’s future direction.