The Politics of Fatigue

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Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) lost its majority in the country’s parliamentary elections over the weekend, according to exit polls, a result that reflects a notable shift in voter support toward opposition parties that have pledged to reverse the erosion of democracy seen in the country, and enhance the nation’s ties with the European Union and Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.

The centrist opposition, made up of three key parties and led by former Prime Minister Donald Tusk, has collectively secured 248 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, according to Politico. Voter turnout was nearly 74 percent, the highest in Poland’s democratic history – surpassing the historic 1989 vote that saw the end of communism.

The early results surprised observers, many of whom said before the vote that the opposition was faced an uneven playing field: The governing PiS mobilized its administrative resources to bolster its position, influencing the administration of the election and the distribution of votes in electoral districts in a way that observers deemed unfair, the newswire wrote.

This dramatic shift in voter sentiment is seen as a response to the divisive policies pursued by the PiS over the past eight years, which has led to numerous protests and disputes with the EU over matters of the rule of law.

Political commentators said the opposition’s victory is important to the EU in the hopes of preventing further democratic backsliding seen in Hungary as well as under the PiS’ governance.

They added that the results will also impact Poland’s relationship with neighboring Ukraine: Since last year’s invasion, Warsaw has supported Kyiv in its conflict with Russia, but the two neighbors have bickered in recent months over the impact of Ukrainian grain entering Poland’s market.

While exit polls showed that the opposition had the most seats, the final results are still not out and some voters remain concerned about the smooth transfer of power.

So far, the PiS appeared to have secured the most votes of any single party, with more than 35 percent of the vote. The nationalist party said it would attempt to form a new government led by current Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Even so, questions remain about how the PiS could realistically hold on to power as it would require attracting lawmakers from opposition parties, a move that appears unlikely given the large number of lawmakers required to change allegiances.

At the same time, political scientists cautioned that even if Tusk and the opposition take power, they will face challenges in carrying out their policies. Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, is an ally of the PiS and could veto new legislation.

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court, whose role is to ensure that laws don’t violate the constitution, is loyal to the current governing party.

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