Press play to listen to this article
Voiced by artificial intelligence.
WARSAW — Poland’s opposition parties look like they’ve won a solid victory in the country’s general election — and if the result holds it signals a radical change both in Poland and in the EU, where the current Law and Justice (PiS) party government has warred for eight years with Brussels over accusations it’s backsliding on the bloc’s democratic rules.
According to an exit poll released immediately after voting ended at 9 p.m. on Sunday, PiS had 36.8 percent support, followed by the centrist Civic Coalition with 31.6 percent, the center-right Third Way with 13 percent, the Left with 8.6 percent and the far-right Confederation with 6.2 percent. In 2019, PiS won 43.6 percent of the vote. The poll was conducted by IPSOS and was shared with Poland’s three main television networks. The poll has a 2 percent margin of error.
Although Law and Justice party came first in terms of support, it is a Pyrrhic victory as the three leading opposition parties would have a majority of seats in the 460-member parliament.
Turnout was 73 percent, according to the exit poll — a record.
It’s a stunning defeat for PiS, which has been in power since 2015.
The party mobilized the full resources of the state to help it win, and it was also strongly backed by state media — which are firmly in the ruling party’s camp. However, PiS was hobbled by a growing number of scandals — including allegations that officials were selling visas for bribes. Eight years of tensions and social conflict, with fights over abortion, rule of law, grain imports from Ukraine, and awful relations with the EU, which has frozen the payout of billions over rule of law worries, also eroded support for PiS.
Even a last-minute referendum with four tendentious questions designed to make the opposition look bad failed to galvanize PiS voters; the referendum fell short of the 50 percent participation rate needed to be counted.
PiS looks set to win too few seats to take a majority in parliament even it if combines with Confederation — which has said it won’t form a coalition with Law and Justice. The three other parties have pledged to work together to oust PiS.
According to the exit poll, Law and Justice would win 200 seats, Civic Coalition 163, Third Way 55, the Left 30 and Confederation would take 12.
The three leading opposition parties would have 248 seats in parliament, while PiS and Confederation would have 212.
PiS leader Jarosław Kazcyński called the result a victory for his party but admitted: “The question before us is whether this success can be turned into another term of office for our government. This we do not know at the moment, but we must hope and we must know that whether we are in power or in opposition, we will carry out this project and not allow Poland to be betrayed.”
He added that his party would work to ensure that its program won’t be abandoned.
Donald Tusk, the leader of Civic Coalition, was ebullient at the result.
“I have never been so happy in my life with this supposed second place, Poland won, democracy won. We removed them from power,” said the former prime minister and European Council president whose return to Polish politics in 2021 proved crucial to the opposition’s hopes.
“We will create a good new democratic government with our partners,” he said, denouncing the past eight years of “evil.”
The opposition promised to rebuild tattered relations with the EU.
“On October 15, Poland is returning to Europe,” said Robert Biedroń, one of the leaders of the Left.
Once the vote count is finalized, the next move belongs to President Andrzej Duda, who has said that presidents traditionally choose a member of the largest largest party to nominate as prime minister and to take the first crack at forming a government.
Whoever Duda chooses would have 14 days to form a government and to try to win an absolute majority in a parliamentary vote of confidence. If that effort fails, parliament then takes a turn at nominating a prime minster.
The election was marked by one of the most bitter campaigns in Poland’s democratic history.
Kaczyński painted the opposition as posing an existential threat to the nation. He accused Tusk of being in cahoots with Berlin and Brussels to hobble Poland’s independence and let in a flood of migrants from Muslim countries.
The opposition warned that a third PiS term would turn Poland firmly away from liberal democracy by cementing the ruling party’s hold on the judiciary, media and state corporations — moving Poland in the direction of Hungary’s illiberal democracy.
Vote counting is now under way across the country.
“We will be keeping an eye on these elections throughout the night,” Tusk said. “As you know, tens of thousands of people are sitting in the precincts. They are watching, no one will steal these elections from us anymore. We will guard every vote.”
This article has been updated.