On October 15, Poland held parliamentary elections that stunned officials with a 73% voter turnout, the highest since the fall of communism in 1989. Poland’s populist Law and Justice party (PiS), led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, appears to be on the brink of losing power after an exit poll projected to fall short of a parliamentary majority with 36% of the vote (196 seats in the parliament). The centrist Civic Coalition (KO) led by former prime minister Donald Tusk received 31% of the vote (158 seats), led by former prime minister Donald Tusk. His party appears to have a better chance at forming a coalition with the center-right Third Way party with 14% (61 seats) and the left-wing Lewica party with 8.6% (30 seats).
If successful, the coalition will be able to form a government with 249 seats. The centrist Third Way party ended up as kingmakers after criticizing both major parties, arguing that neither represents Poland’s best path forward. However, the leader of Third Way, Szymon Holownia, has stated that he would not pursue a pact with PiS. This was a stunning defeat for PiS, which has been in power since 2015.
The outcome of the election will have major impacts on Poland’s future direction, the balance of power in the EU, and the future of the war in Ukraine. PiS has repeatedly clashed with the EU over reforms that have politicized the judicial system, which has given the government increased power in choosing who fills key positions. The party has also brought the public media under greater control and taken a hard line against abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights.
If President Duda lets Law and Justice have the first go and it fails, then parliament gets the second shot at forming a government, which according to the results, would give a majority to the opposition coalition. President Duda could also decline to ask Law and Justice to try to form a government given the parliamentary results. If that second parliamentary attempt fails, then President Duda selects another candidate for PM, and if that fails, he can call fresh elections.
The most likely outcome would be a government formed by the opposition coalition, with Donald Tusk as Prime Minister. In that scenario, Europeans could expect a pro-European stance from his coalition, significantly improved relationships between Poland and Germany and France, as well as more distance towards a more isolated Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. At the European level, the arrival of an experienced former European Council President and European People’s Party (EPP) Chair to represent a country of 37,7 million inhabitants would also boost this center-right party, just a few months before the European elections slated to run from June 6th to 9th.
If all these stages pan out, Poland could be without a government into November and December and/or heading towards fresh elections.