By Claudia Ciobanu
Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS) was on track to win a second term in power in parliamentary elections on Sunday as the first exit poll showed it nabbing 43.6 per cent of votes — a clear victory, but not by the margin it had hoped for.
The exit poll showed four other parties clearing the hurdle to enter parliament, with the centrist Civic Coalition on 27.4 per cent, the left-wing Lewica alliance on 11.9 per cent, the PSL-Kukiz’15 alliance of agrarians and populists on 9.6 per cent and the far-right Confederation with 6.4 per cent.
Turnout was relatively high at 61.3 per cent. The official result is due by Tuesday.
Exit polls have been wrong before in Poland — most recently before the European Parliament election in May — so pundits will be watching closely for official results.
Sociologist Slawomir Sierakowski, founder of Krytyka Polityczna, said exit polls are likely to underestimate the strength of PiS as voters may be reluctant to declare allegiance to the anti-immigrant, ultra-nationalist party.
Opposition hopes of winning enough seats to form a coalition government even if PiS topped the vote looked in disarray after a bitter campaign in which the ruling populists positioned themselves as defenders of “Polish values”.
Given that the so-called d’Hondt method used to calculate seats in the Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament, favours the bigger political forces, the percentages announced on Sunday could translate into the following breakdown of seats: 239 for PiS, 130 for Civic Platform, 43 for Lewica, 34 for PSL-Kukiz’15 and 13 for Confederation.
A few percentage points difference in official results would affect these calculations, so many in Poland are taking Sunday’s figures with a grain of salt.
With 239 seats in the Sejm, PiS would have enough to govern alone, though not with a constitutional majority.
While the exit poll indicates a better performance than four years ago when PiS had 235 seats, the feeling among both government and opposition camps on Sunday night was that PiS’s victory was not as convincing as it might have been.
“We are a political formation which deserves more,” PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said at PiS headquarters in response to the first exit poll. “We got a lot, but we deserve more.”
He added: “Before us lies reflection on what was achieved but also on what was not achieved, and what caused that part of society to decide that they shouldn’t support us.”
His words were hardly the victory speech that a party leader winning a second term in government might be expected to give — a reflection on the party’s high expectations before polling stations closed on Sunday.
Pre-elections opinion polls had consistently given PiS more than 40 per cent of the vote, with some polls in the past week putting the figure closer to 50 per cent.
If exit polls are confirmed, PiS will barely scrape past the minimum threshold to govern alone.
Economist Michal Brzezinski said on Twitter on Sunday night that PiS’s generous economic pledges of recent months — including the doubling of the minimum wage and higher pension payments — do not seem to have translated into additional votes for the party.
PiS’s support comes in large part from its economic programme, but results on Sunday night suggested the party may have reached the limit of what it can squeeze from this particular electoral recipe.
“I want to tell all those who dreamt about a great victory and domination: there will be no Budapest in Warsaw,” Civic Coalition leader Grzegorz Schetyna said after the exit poll came out.
“This was not an equal fight. There were no rules. We didn’t have the feeling that our opponent is using honest methods,” Schetyna added, apparently referring to PiS’s control of state television.
Schetyna said his party still hoped for a good result in the Senate and to win presidential elections next year.
If it turns out that PiS does not win a majority in the Senate, where d’Hondt method is not used, analysts say the opposition could prevent the kind of overnight, conveyor-belt law-making that Poles saw in the first years after PiS came to power.
Meanwhile, the opposition looks set to be able to provide a more weighty counterbalance to PiS in the next parliament.
Maciej Gdula, a sociologist running for Lewica, said there was a chance the Polish parliament could become a place of serious debate about policy after years of growing authoritarianism and democratic backsliding.