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16 October 2023

Donald Tusk spies path to power in Poland

Exit polls show an opposition coalition could oust the illiberal Law and Justice party.

By Wolfgang Münchau

Exit polls in Poland have confirmed that the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) remains the largest after the country’s general election, but it looks like Donald Tusk’s centre-right Civic Platform will be in a position to get a coalition together, forming an outright majority in the 460-seat parliament. According to the exit polls, 56 per cent of the electorate voted for parties of the opposition on Sunday (15 October), with a surprisingly high score for the Third Way alliance. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the PiS leader, conceded that it was not clear that his party had won a third term in office.

The final results won’t be known until Tuesday 17 October but the Ipsos exit poll seems pretty solid, sampling 90,000 voters from 900 randomly chosen polling stations. Its results in 2019 were spot-on, though there are other exit polls, such as one from Ibris, as quoted by Deutsche Welle. This one showed PiS getting 41.2 per cent, meaning they could theoretically form a coalition with the far-right Confederation, which got 7.4 per cent in this poll. Civic Platform’s electoral alliance only got 25.5 per cent, according to this poll. So the results are not certain just yet.

[See also: The EU is the “illusory giant” of geopolitics]

Even if the Ipsos poll got it right Tusk, who was previously prime minister from 2007 to 2014, will have to wait his turn to form a government. Andrzej Duda, the president, will ask PiS, as the largest party, to have a go at finding a majority first. PiS may try to win over MPs, and to get the nationalist Confederation on board. But Confederation performed worse than the polls suggested before the elections. Ipsos calculated that PiS won 200 seats, and would be 19 seats short of a majority even with Confederation and its 11 MPs. If PiS fails to get enough support in parliament it will be Civic Platform’s turn, as the second largest party. PiS will remain in a caretaker function until a coalition is confirmed in parliament. If all attempts to build a government fail, Duda can dissolve parliament and call new elections within 45 days.

If Tusk eventually forms a government, and this may take a while, the new liberal government will not be able to simply reverse PiS laws as long as Duda, a PiS ally, is president. Duda can veto any legislation of the new government, and Tusk would not have the 60 per cent majority necessary to overrule his veto. Duda’s term ends in two years, so Tusk may be heading for two years of paralysis in office. Will his coalition partners, the Third Way in particular, stay put throughout?

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A government led by Tusk, who was president of the European Council from 2014 to 2019, is likely to be more constructive towards its EU partners moving forward. But it probably does not mean that Tusk gets EU recovery funds – which have been withheld over concerns about the rule of law in Poland – unlocked on day one, as he promised on the campaign trail. As long as PiS legislation remains in place, it will be difficult to make the case in Brussels. And undoing the PiS judiciary reform is easier said than done, because of Duda’s veto. Moreover, it will often be impossible to roll back PiS’s reforms without taking decisions on the verge of legality, according to Piotr Buras, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Warsaw.

Tusk is not yet over the finish line. Another hurdle is the Supreme Court, which has to confirm the election results within 90 days of the election. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that this Supreme Court chamber is not an independent and impartial tribunal and that the body nominating judges is influenced by the legislative and executive powers. If the Supreme Court’s chamber were to rule that there have been irregularities in the conduct of the elections, it can order them to be repeated in whole or in part, according to Notes from Poland.

Wolfgang Münchau is a regular columnist for the New Statesman. This piece originally ran on his site Eurointelligence.

[See also: Europe’s east-west divide is widening]

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