Poland’s national-conservative ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) came narrowly ahead of the centrist European Coalition in Sunday’s European Parliament vote seen as a test before the parliamentary elections later this year.
PiS won 43.1% of the vote compared to 31.8% five years ago – the strongest result it has won in any election.
Meanwhile, the opposition European Coalition comprising the Civic Platform (PO), formerly led by European Council President Donald Tusk, and a group of leftist and rural parties reached 38,4%, according to pollster Ipsos.
Other parties such as the left-wing Wiosna of openly-gay politician Robert Biedron with 6.7% and the right-wing Konfederacja with 6.2% trailed far behind, while no other party made it over the 5% threshold.
With this result, the first estimated distribution of seat gave PiS 24 seats in the next European Parliament for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), followed by the European Coalition with 22 seats for the European People’s Party (EPP), and leaving Spring and Confederation with 3 seats each.
PiS had framed the EU ballot as a battle against western liberal ideals that are threatening the staunchly Catholic country’s way of life.
The campaign had been dominated by issues such as gay rights, the legacy of the Holocaust in Poland, and the role of the Catholic Church in public life.
With a voter turnout of 43% – a record high for a European election since Poland joined the bloc in 2004 – the strong result achieved by Law and Justice will feed a growing batch of Eurosceptics across Europe that share the broad goal of returning power to EU member states.
“We won, but we won in such a way that must convince us to do one thing – to work very hard before the parliamentary elections,” PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński told supporters just after exit poll results were published late on Sunday evening.
“Today is a very important day, we have to appreciate it, appreciate the autonomous value of the victory in this election, huge tasks before our MEPs, but we have to remember, the decisive battle for the future of our homeland will take place in the autumn,” he added.
Kaczyński stressed that “everything that is hurting many Poles, everything that is considered a threat, will not be realised, will not happen if Law and Justice is in power.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the result “historic”, commenting on Twitter that “the fifth victory in a row is the best proof that Poles want a good change not only in Poland but in Europe. (…) We did it!”
Historyczny wynik @pisorgpl w wyborach do Europarlamentu i piąte zwycięstwo z rzędu są najlepszym dowodem, że Polacy chcą dobrej zmiany nie tylko w Polsce, ale i w Europie. Dziękuję kandydatom i wolontariuszom, bez których nie byłoby tej wygranej. Zrobiliśmy to! #EUelections2019
— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) May 26, 2019
At the same time, the European election campaign paves the way for the campaign in autumn, when members of the Sejm and Senate – the two chambers of the Polish parliament – will be elected.
The narrow result directly puts the two camps on a collision course for the national polls in autumn.
While for the ruling Law and Justice party, the election had been mainly about cementing its power, the opposition aimed to reverse the nationalist trend.
Hence the unusually large number of current ministers and former prime ministers on both lists, such as deputy prime minister Beata Szydło, interior minister Joachim Brudzinski, and PiS spokeswoman Beata Mazurek for Law and Justice and former prime ministers Ewa Kopacz, Leszek Miller and Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, former foreign minister Radosław Sikorski with mandates for the European Coalition.
Shortly after the results were announced, Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the centre-right Civic Platform (PO) party, praised the idea of the European Coalition.
“We united the opposition, but we know that it’s only the beginning of our path,” said Schetyna, who united five opposition parties into the European Coalition aiming to beat Law and Justice.
“We showed that we can and we must be together. That’s the key to victory in October,” Schetyna said in front of supporters.
He added that the European Coalition is the “only case in Europe” in which the opposition unites against the “populist government.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]