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Poland’s right-wing nationalist party poised for defeat

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Picture: Oliver Hoslet / EPA – Centrist party, Civic Coalition (KO), leader Donald Tusk at the European Council headquarters in Brussels. ‘[T]hree potential coalition partners — the centrist Civic Coalition (KO) with 31.6 percent of the vote, the centre-right Third Way with 13 percent of the vote, and The Left with 8.6 percent of the vote — ended the night in a stronger position to negotiate a government,’ the writer says.

By Olivia Rosane

“After eight years of government hatred, authoritarianism is over in Poland. I still can’t believe it … The nightmare ends …”. – Gay Polish activist Bart Staszewsk

In what one expert called a “major shift”, Polish voters Sunday seemed to have rejected the right-wing party that has governed the country for the past eight years, restricting abortion and LGBTQ rights, turning state television into a propaganda machine, and seeking greater control over the judiciary.

While the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party won the most votes of any single party at 36.8 percent, it did not secure enough to form a majority in parliament, according to an Ipsos exit poll reported by Notes From Poland. Instead, three potential coalition partners — the centrist Civic Coalition (KO) with 31.6 percent of the vote, the centre-right Third Way with 13 percent of the vote, and The Left with 8.6 percent of the vote — ended the night in a stronger position to negotiate a government.

“Poland won. Democracy has won. We have removed them from power,” KO leader Donald Tusk told supporters Sunday, as The Associated Press reported. “This result might still be better, but already today we can say this is the end of the bad time, this is end of Law and Justice rule.”

PiS and its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski are allied with Hungry’s far-right Viktor Orban and the Trump-supporting faction of the US Republican Party, according to The Washington Post. Since taking office in 2015, the party has moved the country in a more socially conservative and autocratic direction.

PiS implemented a near-total ban on abortions, and Kaczynski has described LGBTQ rights as a “threat”. It also passed a judicial reform requiring judges to disclose any group affiliations, which European Court of Justice ruled violated EU laws governing judicial independence, as AP reported at the time. Furthermore, it converted the state television channel TVP into a party mouthpiece that The New Republic compared to Fox News.

Tusk, for his part, has promised to approve both civil unions and first-trimester abortions, according to The New Republic and The Washington Post.

A looming loss for PiS prompted celebrations from progressive campaigners.

“After eight years of government hatred, authoritarianism is over in Poland,” gay Polish activist Bart Staszewski tweeted. “I still can’t believe it … The nightmare ends …”

The Warsaw-based Foundation for Women and Family Planning (FEDERA) helped get out the vote ahead of the election, especially urging young women to the polls. The group posted on social media celebrating the record 72.9 percent turnout.

“Yesterday’s incredible electoral mobilisation will go down in history,” the group wrote.

It also noted that turnout for women was around 73.7 percent.

“What we shouted with you during protests all over the country has happened: ‘Jarek, unfortunately, this government will be overthrown by women!’” the group said, referring to Kaczynski.

“I expect that women will now have more rights, that they will feel safer,” one of those women voters, a 43-year old bank administrator named Iga Frackiewicz, told Reuters. But women’s rights weren’t her only concern.

“I also hope that the nepotism will end,” she said, “for example in state companies and in other places.”

Environmental campaigner Dominika Lasota put it simply, as AP reported.

“We have our future,” Lasota said.

The vote also has important geopolitical implications, The Washington Post pointed out, as PiS has turned away from the EU and Tusk has promised to restore Poland’s relationship with the bloc. He has also pledged unwavering support to Ukraine after the current government vacillated following strong early backing for the country in its war with Russia.

“What it means for Europe is a major shift,” Rosa Balfour, director of the Brussels-based think tank Carnegie Europe, told the Post. “If we get a government without Law and Justice, the relationship between Warsaw and Brussels, which has deteriorated steadily, would change. It also shows that Polish society can make independent decisions even if the media is government controlled.”

However, it may take several months for a new government to take shape. Official election results are expected by Tuesday, BBC News explained. At that point, President Andrzej Duda, who was a member of parliament for PiS, is likely to ask PiS to form a government, since the party did receive the largest share of votes. Yet its path to power is unclear. The Polish parliament has 460 seats, meaning a coalition must have at least 231 members to form a majority. PiS has only secured 200, according to Ipsos, and its most likely governing partner, the far-right Confederation, only looks to have secured 11, according to Notes From Poland.

If PiS does not form a government, parliament would have a chance to form one on its own. Since KO, Third Way, and The Left look set to have a combined tally of 248 votes, they have a shot at doing so. If they fail, Duda can name a new potential prime minister, and, if that also fails, he will have to call new elections.

“The three pro-EU opposition parties are now the clear favourites to form the next government, but the process might take around two to three months,” Andrius Tursa, Central and Eastern Europe adviser for consulting firm Teneo, told The Washington Post.

Olivia Rosane is a staff writer for Common Dreams

This article was first published on Common Dreams