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The results of the Oct. 15 parliamentary elections in Poland are echoing throughout Europe.
Women and young voters helped swing the election to the Civic Coalition and other parties opposing the ruling Law and Justice party, a populist political group that espouses conservative Catholic values and skepticism about the European Union, wrote the BBC.
Law and Justice (or PiS) is still the largest party in parliament, with a 35 percent share, reported Reuters. Now the task of governing falls to Civic Coalition leader Donald Tusk, a former prime minister and ex-president of the European Council, a key EU institution.
Tusk recently notified Polish President Andrzej Duda that he had assembled a majority of lawmakers into a coalition that would appoint him as premier, Politico explained. But Duda is a “staunch ally” of Law and Justice. He could wait and see if Law and Justice under current Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki can assemble an equally viable coalition before inviting Tusk to form a government, putting Tusk off for a month or more.
Analysts expect Tusk and his allies to eventually assume power, probably by mid-December. When they do, they can make choices that will reverberate throughout the continent, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Tusk will draw Poland closer to the EU, send a strong signal to Russia that it supports progressive Western values, and curb the spread of so-called “illiberal” policies.
Law and Justice has been accused of using their years in the majority to weaken democratic institutions like the judiciary and the free press, while consolidating their hold on state media and every other institution in government. For example, the Financial Times wrote that the state-run broadcaster spewed absurd pro-government propaganda before the vote, recalling a news ticker headline – “The opposition’s proposals for Poles: worms instead of meat.”
Meanwhile, its moves have brought it censure from the EU.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Anne Applebaum told Visegrad Insight that the election was basically unfair due to government manipulation, yet Tusk and his allies still won. Bulgarian geopolitical thinker Ivan Krastev wrote an op-ed in the Guardian similarly arguing that Law and Justice’s ploys to win enough support to keep its majority failed. Instead, a strong turnout – the highest in 30 years – helped propel the opposition to its strong showing. Even so, the PiS has yet to admit its losses, the Washington Post reported, instead hailing its success.
One of Tusk’s first jobs will be to dismantle this legislative framework, administrative machinery, and election apparatus, not an easy task. “A deeply entrenched populist system, a president loyal to the Law and Justice party, a puppet Constitutional Tribunal and Supreme Court – these are just a few of the problems a new government would face,” Polish journalist Jaroslaw Kuisz and historian Karolina Wigura wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times.
In the meantime, this move from a populist to a more centrist government is potentially bad news for Russian President Vladimir Putin, noted CNBC. Poland has resisted Russian influence since the end of the Cold War. Now, however, a key anti-Russian voice is also going to be far more accepting of pan-European efforts to counter Russian forces in Ukraine and elsewhere.
The bureaucrats in Brussels must be happy.