Donald Tusk holds  a microphone surrounded by supporters.

The leader of Civic Coalition (KO), Donald Tusk celebrates the exit poll results during Poland's Parliamentary elections on October 15, 2023, in Warsaw, Poland.

(Photo: Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Poland's Right-Wing Nationalist Party Poised for Defeat After Record Voter Turnout

"After eight years of government hatred, authoritarianism is over in Poland," one activist said.

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%, 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% of the vote, the center-right Third Way with 13% of the vote, and The Left with 8.6% 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 U.S. 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 E.U. 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 Republiccompared 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% turnout.

"Yesterday's incredible electoral mobilization will go down in history," the group wrote.

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

"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, toldReuters. 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 E.U. 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 a doing so. If they fail, Duda could name a new potential prime minister, and, if that also fails, he would have to call new elections.

"The three pro-E.U. opposition parties are now the clear favorites 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.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.