Poland has entered political turmoil following the parliamentary election on October 15, with final polls giving Law and Justice (PiS) the largest share of the vote — but opposition parties, taken together, winning a popular majority that will allow them to form the next government.
The outcome represents a significant shift in Europe, with one of the largest EU member states defying trends supporting populist-nationalist governments and paving the path for installing a democratic, rule-of-law-respecting government in Warsaw.
Liberal and pro-EU opposition wins
According to the ballots count, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has become the formal election winner. The conservative ruling party finished first with 36% of the vote. However, more is needed to form a majority.
Instead, PiS’s leading expected partner, the Confederation political force, known for its anti-Ukrainian slogans, has significantly lost voter support in recent weeks. Konfederacja, an openly anti-EU far-right party, finished last with a lower-than-expected 7% support.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the PiS party, which has been in power since 2015, declared victory after exit polls showed his party with a 37% vote share, saying, “Whether we form the government or go into opposition, we will not allow Poland to be betrayed.”
Meanwhile, with 30% support, Donald Tusk, the president of the opposition Civic Coalition, declared that “this is the end of the PiS government, the end of a bad time for Poland” as the unified opposition gained a controlling majority.
Despite Kaczynski’s warnings of national betrayal and instability under Tusk, most voters chose the opposition, even though public media bolstered the PiS campaign.
The next step is for Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, a PiS supporter, to urge the campaign winner to form a government, which will then seek legislative approval. If that fails, parliament will select a party capable of securing a majority based on the election results.
Another significant challenge will be to form a government from the three victorious parties, which were united in opposition to PiS but will now seek a solution that would boost their chances of electoral success in the future in a process that will exacerbate mutual antagonism.
All of this will have to be accomplished in the face of fierce opposition from PiS, which continues to enjoy the support of more than one-third of a loyal electorate and has significant resources in terms of media campaigns.
Significant social, political, and cultural shifts
The election results show that the Polish people have decided they want the country to shift course not only politically but also socially and culturally.
The health of the country’s constitutional order, its legal stance on LGBTQ+ rights and abortion, and the diplomatic ties of a country that has been a vital friend to Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion were all at issue in the election.
LGBTQ+ rights campaigner Bart Staszewski described it as the end of a “nightmare” for himself and others as gay men.
New Poland government influence on the EU
Politicians around Europe celebrated the expected triumph of Poland’s opposition forces on Sunday, particularly in Germany, a favourite target of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party.
The conclusion of the Polish election pushes the Council’s balance towards the centre, which could boost von der Leyen’s chances of re-election as European Commission president after the European election next June.
Tusk will have “tremendous agency in the European Council,” according to Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of the Eurasia Group’s European office. He may fill “something of a vacuum in the European Council, of a strong leader who can push the debate forward,” according to Rahman.
Tusk’s return to power in Warsaw also benefits the European People’s Party (EPP), the powerful centre-right alliance from which Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is also a member.
Relations with Brussels will return to normal after the government change, as the three coalition parties unite to reject PiS’s anti-EU policies, which had even put a ‘Polexit’ on Poland’s political horizon.
Poland’s standing in NATO has diminished in recent months, as relations between the PiS and Ukraine have deteriorated, and the US has been disappointed by the resignation this week of two top Polish military generals who could not cooperate with the now-defunct administration.
Germany benefits from Poland election results
German-Polish ties have suffered recently as Law and Justice (PiS) officials have repeatedly demanded that Germany pay more than €1 trillion in war reparations.
Anti-German sentiment fueled the party’s election campaign, with frequent charges that Donald Tusk, the head of the opposition Civic Coalition and likely next prime minister, was a “German agent.”
Despite having the most seats in the European Parliament, the conservative group’s MPs have been forced out of power in large EU nations such as Germany, diminishing the EPP’s influence within the European Council, where EU leaders meet.
The immigration referendum may have failed
At the same time as the election, a contentious referendum on migration, the retirement age, and other matters were held, with the government inviting people to vote on whether to allow thousands of migrants as part of an EU migration scheme.
Some government critics urged voters to boycott the referendum, claiming that it was an attempt by the administration to rally its supporters.
Many people were spotted refusing to participate in the referendum, and the exit poll had 40% participation, implying that the results would not be legally enforceable.
What to expect for Ukraine support?
The Poland election results for Ukraine appear to be optimistic, as the far-right Confederation party, which opposed continued support for Ukraine and whose leader, Grzegorz Brown, joined the “Stop Ukrainianisation” of Poland campaign, received fewer votes than polls predicted and failed to acquire any influence.
All other parties and alliances support Ukraine in the context of the war with Russia.
At the same time, whichever party forms the government is likely to keep Poland’s policy on Ukrainian grain imports, which has been embargoed since the spring of this year.
The Civic Coalition, which includes one of the leaders of the farmers’ demonstrations against Ukrainian grain, Michal Kolodziejczak, and the Third Way group, which consists of the Polish Peasant Party, accept this policy, which the ruling Law and Justice party established.