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Polish opposition braces for coalition talks after ruling party loses majority

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© Leader of Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski, holds flowers during a speech after the exit poll results are announced in Warsaw, Poland, October 15, 2023. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

By Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk

WARSAW () -Poland’s opposition parties led by Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition (KO) prepared for coalition talks on Tuesday after official results from Sunday’s election showed they had won enough seats to oust the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party.

A new government led by pro-EU centrists will mark a massive shift in Poland after eight years of conflict between PiS and Brussels over democratic standards, media freedom, minority rights and migration.

“In the coming days, after the (final) results are announced, we will talk,” said Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, a leader of the centre-right Third Way, which along with the New Left is expected to join a KO-led coalition.

The Electoral Commission confirmed on Tuesday that PiS remained the largest party in the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, after winning 35.38% of the vote. This would give it around 190 seats in the 460-seat chamber.

Tusk’s KO won 30.70% of the vote. Third Way took third place with 14.40% and the New Left had 8.61%, the Commission said. The far-right Confederation won 7.16% of the vote.

KO, the Third Way and the New Left, combined, will have around 250 seats, the results suggested, enough for them to form a stable coalition government.

However, that prospect could still be weeks, if not months, away. President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, said before the vote that he would give the first shot at forming a cabinet to the group or party that won most ballots.

With no party indicating a willingness to join a PiS-led government, the nationalist party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski seems unlikely to be able to secure a third term at the helm of the European Union’s largest eastern member state.

“Evil has prevailed in Poland, temporarily,” Marek Suski, a senior PiS official, told public broadcaster TVP. “PiS is likely moving into a really democratic opposition.”

MASS MOBILISATION

Turnout in Sunday’s election exceeded 74%, the highest in Poland since the collapse of communism in 1989, after the parties managed to galvanise large numbers of especially younger voters for the first time.

But the election campaign was marred by harsh, divisive rhetoric, reflecting deep polarisation within Polish society.

Vowing to protect Polish borders and sovereignty, PiS cast the vote as a fight against unfettered migration and against unwarranted interference in national life by remote, unelected EU bureaucrats.

Opposition leaders including Tusk, a former European Council president, said PiS would take Poland out of the EU if it won a third term – a charge denied by the ruling party despite its constant legal and political feuds with Brussels.

The opposition parties have yet to name a candidate for the post of prime minister but Tusk, 66, is widely expected to be their nominee. He served as premier from 2007 to 2014.

“Nobody doubts today that without Donald Tusk’s energy and determination, change in Poland would not have been possible,” Marcin Kierwinski, a senior KO official, told Polsat News broadcaster.

Still, the three parties are likely to face complex talks over issues such as abortion and LGBT rights.

On abortion, Kosiniak-Kamysz of Third Way said on Tuesday his party would support reversing a 2021 near-total ban on terminations by reinstating the right to abortion in cases of fetal defects, but would not agree upfront to further liberalisation.

KO and the New Left also want to allow abortions up to 12 weeks without limitations. Third Way wants Poles to decide the matter in a referendum.

“No ideological issues can be part of any coalition agreement,” Kosiniak-Kamysz said.

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