Parties from across the political spectrum have said the vote is the most important since the collapse of communism in 1989 and that it will decide the future direction of a country riven by bitter divisions.
Triumphant supporters of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) claimed the ballot result vindicated the party’s determination to defend traditional Catholic values, to share the benefits of the country’s booming economy with poorer citizens, and to ensure Poland punches its weight on the international arena.
Supporters also said Poles had endorsed the government’s efforts to fend off what conservatives see as Western political correctness.
Opposition parties led by the economically liberal Civic Platform, which was in power from 2007 to late 2015, claim that Law and Justice has eroded democracy and the independence of Polish courts. The governing right-wingers deny such charges but their contested, sweeping changes to Poland’s justice system have seen Warsaw repeatedly clash with Brussels.
Law and Justice won 43.6 percent of the vote on Sunday, according to a survey by pollster Ipsos. Such a score would give it 239 seats in the 460-seat lower house.
State broadcaster TVP reported that the result was the best in a Polish parliamentary election by any party in the last 30 years.
Turnout was a record 61.1 percent, according to the exit poll. The official election results were expected to be announced by Tuesday.
Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczyński claimed victory, telling cheering supporters on Sunday: “We’ve won; we’ve managed to win despite a powerful front against us.”
He added: “We have four years of hard work ahead of us because Poland must continue changing, and it must be changing for the better.”
'Enormous social mandate'
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the exit polls results showed that Law and Justice had been given an “enormous social mandate.”
The largest opposition bloc, the Civic Coalition, led by the Civic Platform (PO) party, was runner-up in Sunday’s election, with 27.4 percent support, according to the exit poll. TVP predicted that would give the party 130 seats in the lower house.
Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna said after exit poll results came through: “We didn't feel that we were taking part in a fair battle, that our opponent was using fair methods.”
Left-wingers back in
A block of three leftist parties led by the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) finished third on Sunday with 11.9 percent, according to the exit poll, a result that would translate into 43 seats and open the way for a left-wing grouping to return to parliament after a hiatus of four years.
The Polish Coalition of the rural-based Polish People’s Party (PSL) and the anti-establishment Kukiz’15 group finished fourth with 9.6 percent, the poll found. That would give the Polish Coalition 34 seats in the lower chamber of the legislature.
The nationalist Confederation group, with 6.4 percent, also crossed the 5-percent voter support threshold that Polish parties need to clear to enter parliament. That result would give it 13 seats, according to the exit poll.
Pre-election polls had indicated that Law and Justice was well ahead of a divided opposition, buoyed by an economy that has been one of the strongest performers in the EU and by historically low unemployment.
Economy doing well
Polish GDP grew 5.1 percent in 2018, the third-fastest economic growth that year in the European Union, which Poland joined in 2004.
Since coming to power in a landslide 2015 election win, Poland’s conservatives have introduced popular benefits for families with children, increased the minimum wage and promised extra handouts for pensioners, while securing extra revenues through a high-profile clampdown on VAT fraud.
Despite criticism that the right-wingers would not be able to afford their swathe of spending pledges, Poland's government last month approved a balanced budget for 2020 that expects the economy to grow 3.7 percent, with inflation targeted at 2.5 percent.