Poland should see official election results from Monday but exit polls suggest an end to eight years of nationalist rule.
Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk has welcomed exit polls showing opposition parties on course to potentially secure a majority in the country’s parliamentary election over the ruling conservative nationalist party.
A former European Council President, Tusk’s victory would see Poland moving closer to European allies and reviving support for Ukraine. His Civic Coalition (KO) party ran with Third Way and the New Left on separate tickets but with a shared commitment to restoring ties with Europe.
The Ipsos exit poll projected that while PiS would emerge as the largest party with approximately 36.8 percent of the vote, roughly equivalent to 200 seats, the KO-led opposition grouping would secure 248 of the 460 seats in Poland’s parliament, enough to form a majority.
Notably, initial results suggested Sunday’s election may have also inspired a higher turnout than in 1989, when some 63 percent of Polish people voted in an election that removed communist authorities.
“Democracy has won … This is the end of the PiS government,” Tusk told party members at a celebration on Sunday evening where he and others wore red hearts on their clothing.
As a member of the European Union and NATO, Poland’s changing position on neighbouring Ukraine, and response to people fleeing the conflict, was being closely watched.
The high turnout led to long queues at polling stations but people who were still in line when polls officially closed were reportedly still able to cast their votes.
PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski was muted in his comments at the party headquarters in central Warsaw, indicating it was not clear whether Sunday’s results would translate into another term in office.
“We have to have hope that regardless of whether we are in power or in opposition, our project will continue,” said Kaczynski. “We will not let Poland lose [the] right to decide its own fate.”
PiS denies its reforms have undermined democracy, saying they were meant to make the country and its economy more fair while removing the last vestiges of communism. It has built its support base on generous social handouts and a pledge of more independence from Brussels.
Tusk has said he would seek to unblock some 110 billion euros of European Union funds earmarked for Poland, which have been frozen due to rule-of-law concerns, from day one if he heads a new government.