Law and Justice Party maintains narrow lead in Polish elections | ET REALITY

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Centrist and progressive forces appeared capable of forming a new government in Poland after winning more seats in a critical general election on Sunday, even though the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party won the most votes for a single party. .

Exit polls showing a strong second place finish for the main opposition group, the Civic Coalition, and better-than-expected results for two smaller centrist and progressive parties suggested a dramatic setback that would dash the hopes of the ruling party of an unprecedented third consecutive term.

A jubilant Donald Tusk, leader of the Civic Coalition, declared the projected results a resounding “victory for democracy” that would end the Rule of Law and Justice, known by its Polish acronym PiS, in power since 2015.

“We did it! We really did it!” Tusk, the former prime minister, told his supporters on Sunday night. “This is the end of this bad time! This is the end of the PiS government!”

The election for a new parliament, held after a fierce campaign in a highly polarized nation, was closely watched abroad, including in Russia and Ukraine, and was considered by many Poles to be the most important vote since they rejected communism in the first election. partially free of the country. in 1989. Reflecting how much was at stake, nearly 73 percent of the electorate voted, the highest turnout in a Polish election since the end of communist rule.

Both the ruling Law, Justice and Civic coalition see the elections as an existential moment of decision about Poland’s future as a stable democratic state.

If initial forecasts turn out to be correct when the final official results are announced, likely on Tuesday, the Civic Coalition and its potential partners won 248 seats in the 460-member legislature, compared to the 200 won by Law and Justice.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, president of the ruling party and Poland’s de facto leader for the past eight years, also claimed victory and declared the vote “a great success for our formation, our project for Poland.” But he acknowledged that his party would have trouble forming a government if the exit polls are correct.

Konfederacja, a radical right group that shares many of Law and Justice’s nationalist views, won just 6.2 percent of the vote, giving it 12 seats. Exit polls are generally reliable in Poland, but some experts warned that unusually high turnout could make them less accurate. Due to long queues at polling stations, in some places voting continued well into the night.

Exit polls published by Poland’s three main television channels indicated that Law and Justice had received the most votes overall (36.8 percent) compared to the Civic Coalition’s 31.6 percent. . Two smaller parties, the Third Way, an alliance of centrists, and the Left reached the threshold needed to enter Parliament’s most powerful lower house, the Sejm.

Seats in the Sejm are distributed according to a complicated proportional system that makes it difficult to determine precisely the future balance of power until all votes have been counted and those of smaller parties that failed to reach the threshold (5 percent for parties and 8 percent for parties). percent for coalitions) are redistributed among the first classified.

Przemyslaw Adynowski, a Warsaw lawyer, said he had voted for the Civic Coalition in what he described as “probably the most important election in 30 years.” A Law and Justice victory, he added, would complete Poland’s “transition phase from democracy to an authoritarian system” and put it at odds with its allies in NATO and the European Union, except for Hungary, a much smaller nation and with little influence. .

Piotr Buras, head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, declared the elections “a triumph of both democracy and liberalism” that “opens the way to a massive reorientation of Poland’s domestic and European politics.” .

The result was particularly surprising given that Law and Justice enjoyed a huge advantage thanks to its tight control of Poland’s public broadcasting system, a national network of radio and television stations that is supposed to be neutral but that above all served as a megaphone for propaganda for the party in power. .

The playing field was tilted even further in favor of the ruling party with the holding of a referendum parallel to the parliamentary elections. Voters were asked to answer four leading questions on immigration and other issues that were clearly intended to harm the European Union and, by association, the opposition.

One of them asked: “Do you support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, according to the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?”

The referendum short-circuited campaign finance restrictions, allowing Law and Justice to deploy state funds to promote supposedly neutral information on issues heavily biased in its favor. However, many voters refused to answer the referendum questions, viewing the exercise as a ruse by the ruling party.

Law and Justice hoped that the referendum would help revive an anti-immigrant message that for years has been its electoral strong point, but that lost its advantage in the final weeks of the campaign when some of its officials were embroiled in a dispute over visas for -scandal. of cash. Evidence that a large number of Polish work visas, valid throughout the European Union, had been sold to African and Asian immigrants led to the abrupt resignation of a deputy foreign minister and his removal from a list of candidates presented by Law and Justice.

Kaczysnki, the party’s president, warned that a vote in favor of his opponents, led by Tusk, former president of the European Council, the main power center of the European Union, would mean subordinating Poland’s national interests to those of Berlin and Brussels. . and the end of Poland as an independent democratic country.

“They intend to eliminate democracy and any trace of the rule of law in Poland,” Kaczysnki said this month at a party convention.

Tusk’s camp, for its part, presented Kaczynski as a mortal threat to liberal democracy and Poland’s continued membership of the European Union, with which the outgoing Law and Justice government repeatedly clashed over the rule of law, the protection of minority rights and other issues.

The election campaign was so insulting and disturbing that many Poles, particularly opposition supporters, could not wait for it to end.

“It was horrible, so brutal,” said Ewa Zabowska, a retired Health Ministry official, after casting her vote for the opposition at a Warsaw primary school. “This lasted too long. Lies non-stop for months.”

However, what Ms. Zabowska considered lies, Law & Justice fans accepted as alarming truths. “Tusk is an emissary from Germany; he will do exactly what Germany dictates,” said Antoni Zdziaborski, a retired tram driver from Warsaw, after voting for the ruling party.

Anatol Magdziarz in Warsaw contributed reporting

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