Poles will vote next Sunday in what opposition leader Donald Tusk has billed as their “most important election since 1989 and the fall of communism”.
The populist, right-wing United Right coalition, led by the Law and Justice party is seeking a third term in office, unprecedented in Poland since 1989.
But after an intensely bitter election campaign, the gap between the right and centre has narrowed, ahead of the 15 October vote for the Sejm (lower house of parliament) and the Senate. Poland has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion began, but relations have frayed during the campaign over a Polish ban on Ukrainian grain.
Warsaw has also pursued a confrontational approach towards the EU and been accused of undermining democratic standards. “We are not afraid of diktats… from Berlin and Brussels,” says Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck.
The ruling party, in office since 2015 and led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is ahead in the polls but may struggle to form a coalition to win an outright majority. Donald Tusk’s party leads the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), but he has been unable to unite with two other moderate parties, the Third Way and The Left.
“A big change is coming. This is a sign of Poland’s rebirth,” he told a crowd of supporters running into the hundreds of thousands in the run-up to the vote. A former prime minister of Poland from 2007-14, he later became president of the European Council. The current prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, accused him of following orders from Brussels and Berlin, particularly on taking in migrants.
The far-right Confederation party – Konfederacja in Polish – could play a crucial role in getting Law and Justice enough seats to stay in power.