Polish election marks huge win for Donald Tusk as ruling conservatives lose to centrist coalition


WARSAW, Poland (AP) — 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 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.

Law and Justice had been taking the country on an illiberal path, taking control of courts in a manner that violated the country’s constitution. The party politicized state institutions, including taxpayer-funded public media which it used as a crude propaganda tool to praise itself and vilify opponents.

The result was a huge victory for Donald Tusk, the head of the largest opposition group, Civic Coalition. He appeared likely to 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.

Tusk’s success is all the more remarkable given that state media went into overdrive to portray him as a stooge of Germany and Russia. That portrayal, which appeared baseless, also won him much sympathy.

The result was a huge relief for Poles concerned about the country’s international isolation at a time of war across the border in Ukraine and the constant bickering with the European Union. Many feared it could cause the country’s eventual ejection from the 27-member bloc.

The LGBTQ+ community also suffered a smear campaign in recent years, being portrayed as a threat to the nation by the conservative ruling party. Liberals were also depicted as disloyal to the country. Over the years, massive protests led by women rocked the country as the party restricted the abortion law to prevent the termination of pregnancies with fetal abnormalities.

Young people and women were among those who voted in droves to get rid of the Law and Justice party, which won in 2015 vowing to fight corruption and help even out economic inequalities. While its social spending did help many Polish pensioners and families, the party has increasingly faced allegations of corruption.

The National Electoral Commission said that Law and Justice won slightly over 35% of the votes, and the far-right Confederation, a possible ally, about 7%.

Three opposition groups won a collective of 53.7%, enough for a comfortable majority in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, or Sejm; The Civic Coalition garnered 30.7% of the vote while the centrist Third Way got 14.4% and the New Left about 8.6%.

The three ran on separate tickets so they are not formally part of the same coalition, but all promised to cooperate to restore the rule of law.

The opposition, which had a razor-thin majority in the outgoing Senate, has now obtained an overwhelming majority of 66 out of 100 seats in that upper chamber. The Senate is far less powerful than the Sejm, but still has some limited influence over the legislative process. Law and Justice will only have 34 seats.

Although the voting is over, it might still take weeks for a new government to be in place.

President Andrzej Duda, an ally of Law and Justice, must call for the first session of the new parliament within 30 days of election day and appoint a prime minister to form a government.

In the meantime, the current government will remain in a caretaker role.

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