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Final results show scale of pro-EU opposition victory in Poland

FILE - Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister addresses supporters at his party headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023.
FILE - Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister addresses supporters at his party headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By Euronews with AP
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Although Sunday night's preliminary results painted an accurate picture, the election commission unveiled the final vote counts on Wednesday.

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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 even the 63% turnout of 1989, a vote that triggered the collapse of the oppressive Soviet-backed communist system.

Law and Justice had been moving the country down an illiberal path, taking control of courts in a manner that violated the country's constitution. The party politicised 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 EU, 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.

Tusk himself won more than half a million votes running for a seat in parliament. His party said it was the best result in the history of parliamentary elections in Poland.

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 exit 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. Liberal critics were sometimes 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, solidifying a solid base of support, 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 party, a possible ally, about 7%.

Three opposition groups won a collective of 53.7%, enough for a comfortable majority of 248 seats 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.

FILE - Poland's conservative ruling Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski gets in a car after voting during parliamentary elections in Warsaw, 15 October 2023
FILE - Poland's conservative ruling Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski gets in a car after voting during parliamentary elections in Warsaw, 15 October 2023Michal Dyjuk/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

What happened to the incumbent Law and Justice party?

Law and Justice will have 194 seats in the new parliament, far short of the majority it held for eight years.

The Confederation party increased its presence from 11 seats in the outgoing parliament to 18 seats in parliament. It had hoped for more after a brief summertime surge in the polls.

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.

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In another sharp blow to Law and Justice, a referendum held alongside the vote failed to reach the 50% needed to be valid. Many voters boycotted it to protest loaded questions on migration and other fraught issues which appeared aimed mostly at mobilizing the ruling party's supporters.

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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