Poles oust prime minister in mass turnout

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The EU may be able to breathe more easily after exit polls in yesterday’s (21 October) Polish parliamentary elections signalled the end of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s two-year reign, which was characterised by frequent confrontations with other member states. 

With turnout above 55%, Poles voted in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in numbers not seen since after the fall of Communism in 1989.

Over 40% of voters favoured the market-oriented, centre-right Civic Platform party, whose leader and likely future Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has promised to adopt a more moderate foreign policy in order to reverse Poland’s increasing marginalisation. 

Tusk also promised during his campaign to enact pro-business reforms such as privatising Poland’s remaining state-owned enterprises and cutting red tape, and Civic Platform has said it wants to adopt the euro in 2012-2013. 

Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party received just over 30% of the votes in an election that highlighted some acute generational differences in Poland. Most young people, many of whom have little or no recollection of Communist times, supported the more market-oriented Civic Platform, while many older voters opted for either the Law and Justice Party or the Polish Peasant’s Party, which received almost 10% of votes, according to exit polls.

The official vote count will be released on 22 or 23 October.

EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso released a statement congratulating Donald Tusk and emphasised "the importance of Poland's contribution to the European Union and the European spirit of the Polish people".

Barroso said he is looking forward to "fruitful cooperation with the next Polish government".

Over the past two years, the conservative, nationalist stance of outgoing Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his Law and Justice (PiS) Party has raised eyebrows in EU circles and threatened to derail recent EU treaty negotiations.

Kaczynski, whose twin brother Lech is set to remain president of Poland until 2010, made international headlines for suggesting that the weighting of Poland's votes in the Council was skewed because of the millions of Poles who were killed in the invasion and occupation by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

Other issues, such as a recent row over a proposed EU anti-death penalty day, Poland's refusal to allow OSCE election monitors and a 'witch hunt' for former Communist officals have embarrassed more moderate, internationally-oriented Poles, who most likely welcome a change in government.  

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