The majority of voters in Poland's general election supported opposition parties that promised to repair the nation's constitutional order and its relationship with allies, including the European Union and Ukraine, according to projections Monday.
After a bitter and emotional campaign, voters turned out in droves on Sunday to make their voices known. Turnout was projected at almost 73 per cent, the highest level in the country's 34 years of democracy and surpassing the 63 per cent who turned out in the historic 1989 vote that toppled communism. In the city of Wroclaw, the lines were so long that voting continued through the night until nearly 3 a.m.
A so-called late exit poll by Ipsos suggested that voters had grown tired of the governing nationalist Law and Justice party after eight years of divisive policies that led to frequent street protests, bitter divisions within families and billions of euros (dollars) in funding held up by the EU over rule of law violations.
Poland's currency, the zloty, reacted by strengthening against the dollar and the euro Monday.
The outcome could also affect ties with neighbouring Ukraine, which Poland has been supporting in the war against Russia's aggression. The good relations soured in September over Ukraine grain entering and affecting Poland's market.
The Ipsos poll showed that three centrist opposition parties that campaigned on a promise to reverse the illiberal drift of the government had together secured around 248 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, or Sejm, a clear majority.
I am really overjoyed now," Magdalena Chmieluk, a 43-year-old accountant, said Monday morning. The opposition "will form a government and we will finally be able to live in a normal country, for real.
Still, Poles on Monday were facing weeks of political uncertainty. Law and Justice won more votes than any single party and said it would try to build a new government led by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
No matter how you look at it, we won, Law and Justice campaign manager Joachim Brudzinski said Monday in an interview on RMF FM radio.
President Andrzej Duda, an ally of Law and Justice, must call the first session of the new parliament within 30 days of the election and designate a prime minister to try to build a government. In the meantime, the current government will remain in a caretaker role.
The tradition in the democratic era has been for the president to first tap someone from the party with the most votes, but he is not required to do so.
It was not clear how Law and Justice could realistically hold onto power, unless it managed to win over some lawmakers from opposition parties, something it did in the past to maintain the thin parliamentary majority it held for eight years. But that seemed unlikely given the large number that would need to change allegiances.
The leader of the agrarian PSL party, a frequent kingmaker in past governments, ruled out cooperating with Law and Justice, known in Poland as PiS, after running with the Third Way coalition.
Those who voted for us want change, want a change of government, want PiS removed from power," Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said on RMF FM.
The Ipsos poll showed Law and Justice with 36.6 per cent of the votes cast; the opposition Civic Coalition, led by former European Council President Donald Tusk, with 31 per cent; the centrist Third Way coalition with 13.5 per cent; the Left party with 8.6 per cent; and the far-right Confederation with 6.4 per cent.
The electoral commission said it expected to report the final result by early Tuesday.
Tusk on Sunday evening declared that it was the end of Law and Justice rule and that a new era had begun for Poland.
But not all rejoiced over the projected outcome.
I am disappointed with the results but I accept the democratic choice," said Elzbieta Szadur-Urbanska, a 58-year-old psychologist who voted for Law and Justice. I think my party is also democratic.
Cezary Tomczyk, vice chairman of Tusk's party, said the governing party would do everything to try to maintain power. He called on it to accept the election result, saying it was the will of the people to now give power to the opposition.
The nation spoke, Tomczyk said.