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Poland’s liberal voters have spoken: the results of Sunday 15th October 2023 parliamentary elections

“We did it! Really! … Poland has won, democracy has won. We have removed them from power!” That is how the opposition leader Donald Tusk — a former prime minister and former head of the European Council —addressed his supporters on a late Sunday night. The exit polls indicated that the populist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which had ruled Poland for the past eight years, received the most votes but fell short of securing a parliamentary majority.

Now, with Poland’s electoral committee having completed the vote tally, the nation eagerly awaits the formation of a new governing coalition.

The final count revealed that PiS garnered 35.4% of the vote, while the Civic Coalition, led by Tusk, secured 30.7%. Alongside the centre-right Third Way, which claimed 14.4%, and the left-wing Lewica, with 8.6%, these three groups seem poised to construct a coalition that would comfortably command a majority in the 460-seat parliament.

With the vote count concluded, all eyes are now on President Andrzej Duda, who is expected to indicate his preference for the party that should be given the first opportunity to form a coalition. Tradition suggests that he might turn to PiS as the largest party, but other political factions have made it clear that they are unwilling to cooperate with them. In light of this political reality, the opposition has appealed to the president to consider the broader landscape and allow them the opportunity to assemble their coalition.

Nevertheless, there lingers an apprehension regarding potential manoeuvres by PiS in the days and weeks ahead. Cautious optimism is tempered by the recognition that governing with a PiS-aligned president in office until 2025, and with numerous state institutions filled with PiS supporters, will pose significant challenges for a new governing coalition. It is also expected that PiS will seek alliance with the far-right Konfederacja to back its attempt in securing the government seats.

What would a governing coalition under Tusk mean for Poland, its partners in the European Union and in Ukraine?

Domestic policies

With Poland under PiS imposing the most stringent anti-abortion legislation in Europe, Tusk has consistently and unambiguously expressed his campaign commitment to easing the severe abortion limitations enforced by the previous government. Furthermore, during PiS’s tenure, the tolerance and even promotion of hate speech targeting LGBTQ+ individuals have been apparent. Tusk has emphasized that a legislative proposal for implementing same-sex civil partnerships will be a top priority for the incoming government, even though it remains a subject of controversy among conservative Poles and certain factions within his own coalition.

EU politics

Over the last years of PiS, the government has found itself in frequent disputes with Brussels regarding concerns over the rule of law, resulting in the freezing of tens of billions of euros in European funds designated for Poland. Tusk undoubtedly represents a more familiar and amicable figure to Poland’s European partners. Many of them are already well-acquainted with him, owing to his five-year tenure as the President of the European Council.

Support for Ukraine

The outcome of the parliamentary election holds particular significance for Kyiv and Moscow, given Poland’s central role in the Western response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Poland has supplied Ukraine with German-manufactured Leopard 2 tanks and Polish MiG-29 fighters, in addition to providing refuge for millions of Ukrainian refugees since the conflict’s onset.

Nonetheless, in recent months, a sense of “Ukraine fatigue” has been on the rise among an ever growing minority of Poles, leading to a hardened stance from the PiS. Just last month, a dispute concerning the impact of Ukrainian grain exports on Polish farmers escalated to the point where Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hinted at the possibility of discontinuing Polish arms shipments.

Tusk’s Civic Coalition has committed to sustaining its support for Ukraine and has openly criticized PiS for its recent rhetoric concerning Poland’s eastern neighbour.

Polina Khoroshevskaia

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