Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk is declaring the beginning of a new era after three opposition parties appeared to have won enough votes in Sunday’s election to oust the governing party.
An Ipsos exit poll suggested the opposition together as a coalition has likely won 248 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, the Sejm, while Law and Justice gained 200 seats.
Three opposition parties, Civic Coalition, Third Way and the New Left, ran on separate tickets but with the same promises of seeking to oust Law and Justice and restore good ties with the European Union.
Tusk, a former prime minister and European Council president, told his supporters on Sunday night: “I am the happiest man on earth,” Mr Tusk said. “Democracy has won. Poland has won.”
He added: “I have been a politician for many years. I’m an athlete. Never in my life have I been so happy about taking seemingly second place. Poland won. Democracy has won. We have removed them from power.
“This result might still be better, but already today we can say this is the end of the bad time, this is the end of Law and Justice rule.”
Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told supporters his party’s result, at nearly 37% of the vote according to the exit poll, was a success, making it the party to win the most votes for three parliamentary elections in a row.
Votes are still being counted and the state electoral commission says it expects to have final results by Tuesday morning.
The far-right Confederation has likely won 12 seats, according to the projection.
Law and Justice has a devoted base of supporters in the Central European nation of 38 million who appreciate its defence of Catholic traditions and its social spending on pensioners and families with children.
But support for the party has shrunk since the last election in 2019 – when it won nearly 44% of the vote – amid high inflation, allegations of cronyism and bickering with European allies.
Many Poles feel it is the most important election since 1989 when a new democracy was born after decades of communism.
Around 29 million people were eligible to vote with a record 600,000 registered abroad.
Polling in recent days had suggested opposition parties had a chance to deprive the governing populists of an unprecedented third term in a row.
However, if official results confirm the exit poll, Mr Tusk and his allies may have to wait weeks or even months before they get the opportunity to form a government.
As well as the parliamentary election, Poles were also asked to vote on four referendum questions, ranging from the admission of immigrants to raising the retirement age and selling national assets to foreign entities.