Poland exit polls: Donald Tusk claims victory based on coalition hopes

Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister and European Council president, claimed victory in Poland’s parliamentary election on Sunday, making the announcement just minutes after the polls closed, based on the results of an exit poll.

The poll suggested the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party had won the most votes but appeared to show a route to government for a combined opposition coalition led by Tusk.

PiS, which has governed Poland for eight years, has turned public television into a propaganda arm of the government, restricted abortion rights and demonised LGBTQ+ people, migrants and refugees. It has also put Poland on a collision course with Brussels over rule of law issues, which has led to tens of billions of euros in European funding being frozen.

Tusk appeared on stage at the Civic Coalition election headquarters at Warsaw’s Ethnographical Museum to declare victory.

“It’s the end of the evil times, it’s the end of the PiS rule, we made it,” said Tusk, to cheers from assembled supporters.

“We won democracy, we won freedom, we won our free beloved Poland … this day will be remembered in history as a bright day, the rebirth of Poland,” he said.

An updated exit poll released early on Monday put PiS on 36.6% and Tusk’s Civic Coalition on 31%. However, two groups that could form a coalition with Tusk also did well, with 13.5% for the centre-right Third Way and 8.6% for the leftwing Lewica.

Such a result, if confirmed, would mean that the three combined parties would have a majority in Poland’s 460-seat parliament. In a further piece of potential good news for Poland’s progressives, the exit poll put Confederation, a far-right coalition tipped to get about 9% of the vote, on 6.4%, lower than pre-election polls had estimated.

Poland’s zloty currency firmed following the result, and was about 1.3% stronger at 0515 GMT.

More clarity on the results was expected in the morning, but the final outcome may only be available well into Monday or even Tuesday. An exit poll in Slovakia’s election earlier this month appeared to show a victory for a progressive coalition, only for the actual results to be strikingly different.

“[The] president can give PiS first chance to form government, delaying opposition,” said Stanley Bill, professor of Polish studies at Cambridge University, writing on X, formerly Twitter. “Crucial to wait for official results (by Tuesday) – small differences could somewhat alter the picture.”

However, the mood at the Civic Coalition HQ was jubilant. “The next 40 hours, 60 hours will show how we build this coalition. But for us it’s obvious that the [government] coalition will be us, the Third Way and the left,” said Borys Budka, head of the Civic Coalition parliamentary faction.

Budka also said an opposition win would mark the return of Poland to friendly relations with the EU and an end to the threat of a “Polexit”.

Barbara Nowacka, a Civic Coalition MP who has been fiercely critical of the PiS crackdown on abortion rights, said it was clear the opposition had won, and said it was an important day for Polish women.

“Young women won’t be afraid to get pregnant, young women won’t be afraid to go to the doctor,” she said.

Jarosław Kaczyński, 74, the PiS chair, said his party’s result was a big success, but admitted “we don’t know” whether the party had a path to government.

“Days of fight and tension await us,” he told supporters just after the exit poll was released. If PiS is indeed the biggest party, it has the right to have the first attempt at forming a coalition.

“Whether we are in power or in the opposition, we will continue implementing our project and will not allow Poland to be betrayed,” he said.

In a bitterly divisive campaign over recent months, both sides have painted the vote as being of decisive importance for the future of Poland. Tusk had described the election as “the last chance” to stop PiS from doing irreparable damage to Polish democracy.

PiS ran a campaign from the populist playbook, claiming it was the only party that can protect Poland from an “invasion” of refugees. The campaign has also focused on the figure of Tusk, 66, relentlessly attacking the challenger as a foreign stooge.

The election was on course for a turnout of over 72%, the highest since the fall of communism. As the polls closed there were queues remaining outside many polling stations. Authorities said anyone who was queueing before the official end of voting would be able to vote.

Television footage showed several hundred people, mostly young, waiting in a long line at one polling station in the western city of Wrocław to vote. Local residents were bringing them hot tea and blankets as well as some food.

Some of those in line said they waited for six hours. The polling station closed just before 3am (0100 GMT), some six hours after the voting stations were set to officially to close.

Earlier in the day, at one polling station in Wola district, opposition voters expressed confidence at the chances for an opposition victory.

“I saw a lot of young people, more than four or eight years ago, which makes me optimistic,” said Pawel, 46, who had voted for Tusk’s Civic Coalition. At the same polling station Maciej, 78, said the stereotype that older people support PiS was not true. “There are plenty of us who know how to think,” he said, tapping his forehead.

Across town in the Gocław district, 77-year-old Grażyna said she voted for PiS because she believed they are the “fairest” of all the parties. “I hope they will be able to continue changing Poland for the better,” she said, after queueing for 20 minutes to vote.

There were also long queues at Polish consulates abroad, with more than 600,000 Poles living outside the country registering to vote. On social media, people shared photographs and videos of long queues in various cities: one person said they had waited three hours to vote in Palermo without getting to the front of the queue.

Alongside the election, the government held a referendum, which asked four leading questions, including two on migration. One asked if people agree with “the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa”.

The referendum was seen as a way to boost turnout among the PiS support base, as well as a way to circumvent electoral funding restrictions for the government. The opposition told its supporters to request only an election ballot and decline to take part in the referendum, which requires a 50% turnout to be valid.

With so much at stake in the vote, there have been some concerns of possible foul play. Tens of thousands of Polish volunteers signed up to monitor the vote at polling stations.

There are also concerns about potential attempts to discredit the results or interfere in the process in the event of a PiS defeat. Electoral results are ratified by the Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs, added to the supreme court by the PiS government.

Budka, however, said he believed the time for PiS was over. “Even if they try any tricks it wouldn’t be something which changed the result,” he claimed.
“It signifies the end of a dark era, the conclusion of PiS rule – we’ve achieved it,” Tusk declared, drawing cheers from his supporters.

“We have triumphed in the name of democracy, freedom, and our cherished Poland… This day will be etched in history as a day of illumination, Poland’s rebirth,” he continued.

A fresh exit poll released early on Monday revealed that PiS secured 36.6%, while Tusk’s Civic Coalition received 31%. Nevertheless, two other parties, which could potentially join forces with Tusk, also performed strongly, with the center-right Third Way at 13.5% and the leftwing Lewica at 8.6%.

If these results hold, it would mean that the combined strength of these three parties would constitute a parliamentary majority in Poland’s 460-seat parliament. In a potentially positive development for Poland’s progressive forces, the exit poll showed Confederation, a far-right coalition expected to receive around 9% of the vote, falling short at 6.4%, lower than pre-election predictions.
The Polish zloty currency strengthened by approximately 1.3% following the outcome, as of 0515 GMT.

Further clarity on the election results was anticipated in the morning, but the definitive outcome might not be available until well into Monday or even Tuesday. This situation is reminiscent of an exit poll in Slovakia’s recent election earlier this month, which initially indicated a victory for a progressive coalition but eventually revealed significantly different results.

Stanley Bill, a professor of Polish studies at Cambridge University, expressed, “[The] president may grant PiS the first opportunity to form a government, potentially delaying the opposition. It’s crucial to await official results (by Tuesday) as minor discrepancies could somewhat change the overall picture.”
Nonetheless, there was a celebratory atmosphere at the Civic Coalition headquarters. Borys Budka, who leads the Civic Coalition’s parliamentary faction, expressed, “The upcoming 40 to 60 hours will demonstrate how we will establish this coalition. However, it is evident to us that the coalition in power will consist of us, the Third Way, and the left.”

Budka also highlighted that an opposition victory would signify a return to amicable relations between Poland and the EU and would eliminate the specter of a “Polexit.”

Barbara Nowacka, a Civic Coalition Member of Parliament who has vehemently criticized the PiS’s restrictions on abortion rights, asserted that it was apparent the opposition had emerged victorious, marking a significant day for Polish women. She noted, “Young women will no longer fear getting pregnant, and they won’t be afraid to seek medical care.”
Jarosław Kaczyński, aged 74 and the leader of PiS, acknowledged his party’s substantial success in the election but conceded that it’s uncertain whether the party has a clear path to forming the government.

He addressed his supporters immediately after the release of the exit poll, saying, “We face days of struggle and tension.” If PiS does indeed emerge as the largest party, it has the prerogative to make the first attempt at forging a coalition.

Kaczyński emphasized, “Regardless of whether we are in power or in the opposition, we will persist in executing our agenda and ensure that Poland is not betrayed.”

In a fiercely divisive campaign that has unfolded over the past few months, both sides have depicted the vote as being of paramount significance for Poland’s future. Tusk had characterized the election as “the last opportunity” to prevent PiS from causing irreparable harm to Polish democracy.
PiS adopted a populist campaign strategy, asserting that it was the sole party capable of shielding Poland from a perceived “invasion” of refugees. Additionally, the campaign heavily targeted Donald Tusk, aged 66, repeatedly portraying him as a foreign puppet.

The election appeared to be heading for a turnout exceeding 72%, the highest since the fall of communism. As the polling stations closed, there were still queues of voters outside many of them. Authorities assured that individuals who were in line before the official end of voting would be allowed to cast their ballots.

Television broadcasts depicted several hundred people, primarily young individuals, waiting in a lengthy line at a polling station in the western city of Wrocław. Local residents were providing them with hot tea, blankets, and some food.

Some of those in the queue reported waiting for as long as six hours. The polling station eventually closed just before 3 am (0100 GMT), approximately six hours later than the scheduled official closing time for voting stations.
Earlier in the day, at one polling station in Wola district, opposition voters expressed confidence at the chances for an opposition victory.

 

“I saw a lot of young people, more than four or eight years ago, which makes me optimistic,” said Pawel, 46, who had voted for Tusk’s Civic Coalition. At the same polling station Maciej, 78, said the stereotype that older people support PiS was not true. “There are plenty of us who know how to think,” he said, tapping his forehead.

 

Across town in the Gocław district, 77-year-old Grażyna said she voted for PiS because she believed they are the “fairest” of all the parties. “I hope they will be able to continue changing Poland for the better,” she said, after queueing for 20 minutes to vote.

 

There were also long queues at Polish consulates abroad, with more than 600,000 Poles living outside the country registering to vote. On social media, people shared photographs and videos of long queues in various cities: one person said they had waited three hours to vote in Palermo without getting to the front of the queue.
Alongside the election, the government held a referendum, which asked four leading questions, including two on migration. One asked if people agree with “the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa”.

 

The referendum was seen as a way to boost turnout among the PiS support base, as well as a way to circumvent electoral funding restrictions for the government. The opposition told its supporters to request only an election ballot and decline to take part in the referendum, which requires a 50% turnout to be valid.

 

With so much at stake in the vote, there have been some concerns of possible foul play. Tens of thousands of Polish volunteers signed up to monitor the vote at polling stations.

 

There are also concerns about potential attempts to discredit the results or interfere in the process in the event of a PiS defeat. Electoral results are ratified by the Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs, added to the supreme court by the PiS government.

 

Budka, however, said he believed the time for PiS was over. “Even if they try any tricks it wouldn’t be something which changed the result,” he claimed.
In addition to the election, the government organized a referendum that presented four key questions, including two related to immigration. One of these questions inquired whether people supported “the acceptance of thousands of undocumented immigrants from the Middle East and Africa.”

The purpose of the referendum was perceived as a means to bolster turnout within the PiS support base and as a way to bypass restrictions on electoral funding for the government. In response, the opposition urged its supporters to only request an election ballot and abstain from participating in the referendum, as it requires a 50% turnout to be considered valid.

Given the high stakes of the election, concerns have arisen regarding potential irregularities. Tens of thousands of Polish volunteers volunteered to oversee the voting process at polling stations.

There are also apprehensions about potential efforts to discredit the results or interfere in the process should PiS face a defeat. Electoral results are confirmed by the Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs, an institution introduced by the PiS government within the supreme court.

Nonetheless, Budka expressed his belief that the era of PiS was coming to an end, stating, “Even if they attempt any manipulations, it wouldn’t be sufficient to alter the outcome.”

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