The incumbent right-wing conservative Law and Justice party might have won the most seats in parliament, but likely doesn't have enough allies to form a government.
1. The opposition looks like it brought home a victory
Exit polls show that Poland's three biggest opposition parties have likely won a combined 248 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, the Sejm. The largest of the groups is Civic Coalition, led by Donald Tusk, a former prime minister and European Union president. It won 31.6% of votes, the exit poll said.
“I have been a politician for many years. I’m an athlete. Never in my life have I been so happy about taking seemingly second place. Poland won. Democracy has won. We have removed them from power,” Tusk told his cheering supporters.
“This result might still be better, but already today we can say this is the end of the bad time, this is the end of Law and Justice rule," Tusk added.
2. Voters pass judgment on Law and Justice years in power
If the result predicted by the exit poll holds, the ruling Law and Justice party won but also lost. It got more seats than any other party but fewer than in the previous election and not enough to be able to lead a government that can pass laws in the legislature.
The Ipsos exit poll suggested that Law and Justice obtained 200 seats. Its potential partner, the far-right Confederation got 12 seats, a showing the party acknowledged was a defeat.
During the campaign many Poles described the vote as the most important one since 1989, when a new democracy was born after decades of communism. Turnout then was 63%.
Despite many uncertainties ahead, what appeared certain was that support for the governing party has shrunk since the last election in 2019 when it won nearly 44% of the vote, its popularity dented by high inflation, allegations of cronyism and bickering with European allies.
There is a high level of state ownership in the Polish economy, and the governing party has built up a system of patronage, handing out thousands of jobs and contracts to its loyalists.
3. Big change of direction socially, politically and culturally
Even before the final results have been verified, which will likely happen on Tuesday, it's clear that Poland's voters have decided they want a change of direction for the country not just politically, but socially and culturally as well.
At stake in the election were the health of the nation’s constitutional order, its legal stance on LGBTQ+ rights and abortion, and the foreign alliances of a country that has been a crucial ally to Ukraine after Russia launched its full-scale invasion.
LGBTQ+ rights activist Bart Staszewski called it the end of a “nightmare” for himself as a gay man and others.
“This is just the beginning of reclaiming of our country. The fight is ahead but we are breathing fresh air today,” he said.
Environmental activist Dominika Lasota was emotional with relief, saying “we have our future.”
Law and Justice has eroded checks and balances to gain more control over state institutions, including the courts, public media and the electoral process itself.
4. Relationship with EU looks to shift for the better
A political change in Poland could open the way for the EU to release billions of euros in funding that has been withheld over what the EU viewed as democratic erosion.
Piotr Buras, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the opposition had gained from “growing fatigue” with the government among Poles, "beyond the groups usually supporting the liberals.”
The fate of Poland's relationship with Ukraine was also at stake. The far-right Confederation party campaigned on an anti-Ukraine message, accusing the country of lacking gratitude to Poland for its help in Russia's war.
It fared far worse than expected, bagging a predicted 14 seats.
This poor showing will be a relief for Kyiv.
5. Referendum on immigration might have flopped
A controversial referendum on migration, the retirement age and other issues was held at the same time as the election, with the government wanting the people to vote on whether to accept thousands of migrants as part of an EU migration scheme.
Some government opponents called on voters to boycott the referendum, saying it was an attempt by the government to galvanise its supporters.
Many voters were seen refusing to take part in the referendum and the exit poll pegged participation at 40%, which meant the results would not be legally binding.