This combination of photos created and taken on October 15, 2023 during the parliamentary elections shows (L) Polish Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the PiS (Law and Justice) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski casting his vote at a polling station in Warsaw, Poland, and (R) Donald Tusk, leader of the main opposition party Civic Coalition (Koalicja Obywatelska) casting his ballot at a polling station in Warsaw. AFP
The conservative Law and Justice party, which has governed the country for eight turbulent years, won slightly over 35% of the votes, making it the single party with the most votes. But the party and its leader Jarosław Kaczyński lost their majority in parliament and appeared to have no way to hold onto power.
The official ballot announced by the National Electoral Commission aligns closely with an exit poll released after voting ended Sunday.
Turnout was nearly 75%, a record that surpassed the 63% turnout of 1989, a vote that triggered the collapse of the oppressive Soviet-backed communist system.
Law and Justice had been taking the country on an illiberal path, taking control of courts in a manner that violated the country's own constitution. The party politicized state institutions, including taxpayer-funded public media which it used as a crude propaganda tool to praise itself and vilify opponents.
The result was a huge victory for Donald Tusk, the head of the largest opposition group, Civic Coalition. He appeared likely to return to his past role as Polish prime minister, a job he held from 2007-14. He also served as the European Council president, a top job in the bloc, from 2014-19.
Tusk's success is all the more remarkable given that state media went into overdrive to portray him as a stooge of Germany and Russia. That portrayal, which appeared baseless, also won him much sympathy.
The result was a huge relief for Poles concerned about the country’s international isolation at a time of war across the border in Ukraine and the constant bickering with the European Union. Many feared it could cause the country's eventual ejection from the 27-member bloc.
The LGBTQ+ community also suffered a smear campaign in recent years, being portrayed as a threat to the nation by the conservative ruling party. Liberals were also depicted as disloyal to the country.
The National Electoral Commission said that Law and Justice won slightly over 35% of the votes, and the far-right Confederation, a possible ally, about 7%.
Three opposition groups won a collective of 53.7%, enough for a comfortable majority in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, or Sejm; The Civic Coalition garnered 30.7% of the vote while the centrist Third Way got 14.4% and the New Left about 8.6%.
The three ran on separate tickets so they are not formally part of the same coalition, but all promised to cooperate to restore the rule of law.