Conservatives dominate Polish vote, capitalize on spending

Leader of Poland's ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks in reaction to exit poll results right after voting closed in the nation's parliamentary election that is seen crucial for the nation's course in the next four years, in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (AP Photo)

By VANESSA GERA Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice party has capitalized on its popular social spending policies to do even better at the ballot box than when it swept to power four years ago, according to nearly complete results reported Monday.
If confirmed, the results from Sunday’s general election would be the strongest showing for a single Polish party in a parliamentary election in 30 years, since Poland threw off communism to establish democracy.
Law and Justice won over 44% of Sunday’s vote, up from 38% in 2015, according to results reported by the state electoral commission based on 92% of the votes. Under the Polish system for seat distribution, that result translates into the party having a majority of seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.
The Civic Coalition, a centrist alliance built around the Civic Platform party, once led by EU leader Donald Tusk, was running second with almost 27% support.
Despite that result, Law and Justice leaders, however, were not overly enthusiastic. It leaves them short of the two-thirds majority that they sought to change the constitution as they work to reshape Poland as a strong modern state rooted in a conservative Roman Catholic outlook that rejects abortion and gay rights.
“We achieved a lot, but we deserve more,” party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski declared in a victory speech late Sunday.
A left-wing alliance build around the Democratic Left Alliance trailed in third with slightly over 12% support, bringing the left back into parliament after having no representation there over the past four years.
The conservative agrarian Polish People’s Party, in alliance with an anti-establishment party led by a rock star, Kukiz 15, got nearly 9%.
Confederation, a new far-right group that is openly anti-Semitic and homophobic, was set to enter parliament after winning 6.8% of the vote.
With 94% of votes counted to the less powerful 100-seat Senate, Law and Justice had 45% support, the Civic Coalition 35% and the Polish People’s Party nearly 6%, while the others did not get seats.
Turnout was at a record high of over 61% in a sign of how important voters on all sides considered this election.
In the past, Kaczynski has said he wants a new constitution to “guarantee true democracy.” Critics fear that would amount to a power grab, given the party’s track record on the judiciary and the media.
According to the European Union, the ruling party’s overhaul of Poland’s courts and public prosecution over the past four years has eroded the country’s judicial independence.
The ruling party has vowed to complete its overhaul of the judicial system after the election.
The party has also used public media as a tool to promote its own successes and cast a poor light on the opposition.