Exit polls suggest Poland’s conservative government has retained its parliamentary majority, allowing it to forge ahead with a controversial program of reforms that has put the country on a collision course with the EU.
Polls released just seconds after voting stopped put the ruling Law and Justice party on 43.6 per cent of the vote, which would give the party 239 seats in the Polish lower house, slightly more than the 231 required for a majority.
“We have a reason to be happy,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the party’s leader, told an overjoyed crowd of supporters just minutes after the exit polls became public.
“Despite being opposed by a powerful force we won and everything indicates we will continue to win. And if it does continue, there will be good changes.”
Civic Coalition, the main opposition group, took 27.4 per cent of the vote according to the polls. There is also a chance that the Confederation, a far-right alliance that has faced accusations of anti-Semitism and racism, could make it past the five per-cent threshold needed to take seats in parliament.
A victory for Law and Justice will lend the government the momentum to push ahead with a program that it says will make Poland a fairer country and which critics have warned amounts to a power grab.
Before the election Mr Kaczynski said he wanted to change the country’s constitution “to strengthen freedom,” but this could embroil the government in further in conflicts both at home and abroad.
The EU has already threatened Poland with legal sanctions over a controversial overhaul of the judiciary that it said undermined the rule of law, so any continuation by Law and Justice in the same direction could deepen the rift between Warsaw and Brussels.
At the same time Law and Justice’s victory could further stoke tensions and divisions within Polish society.
During its first term in office the party made little effort to reach out to those who opposed it, preferring instead to often demonise them and in some cases cast doubt over their patriotism and loyalty.
Opposition parties are were hoping that the final vote count would deny Law and Justice an outright majority, forcing them to attempt to form a coalition – a difficult task for a party that has alienated almost all of its rivals.
Government supporters will argue that the outcome proves Law and Justice’s mix of left-wing policies with socially conservative and nationalistic stances on other issues has been a hit with the voters.
The party says it has delivered on its promising to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots in Poland, introducing social welfare policies popular with its core voters, who tend to live outside Poland’s increasingly prosperous cities.
Some political experts say the secret of Law and Justice’s has been “re-distributing prestige” to those who felt left out or passed over by Poland’s post-communist economic success.
Law and Justice has also focused on protecting Christian values, the “traditional” family structure and the Catholic Church against what it considers Western cultural liberalism manifested in LGBT culture and gay rights.
Significantly the party has also presided over a strong economic growth. Poland’s GDP was expected to reach 4.3 per cent this year, according to the World Bank, while at the same time unemployment has fallen and wages have risen.
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