World

Euroskeptic party wins Polish parliamentary election, ends years of pro-Europe rule

Poland took a decisive turn to the right in its parliamentary election Sunday, tossing out the centrist party that had governed for eight years for a socially conservative and euroskeptic party that wants to keep refugees out and spend more on Poland's own poor.

Exit poll shows right-wing Law and Justice party won enough seats to govern alone

Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz conceded defeat after an exit poll showed the conservative Law and Justice Party winning a decisive victory on Sunday. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Poland took a decisive turn to the right in its parliamentary election Sunday, tossing out the centrist party that had governed for eight years for a socially conservative and euroskeptic party that wants to keep refugees out and spend more on Poland's own poor.

An exit poll showed the conservative Law and Justice party winning 39 per cent of the vote, enough to govern alone without forming a coalition.

The ruling pro-European Civic Platform party received 23 per cent of the vote, according to the exit poll, and Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz of Civic Platform conceded shortly afterward.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Law and Justice, declared victory and promised his party would govern fairly.

"We will exert law but there will be no taking of revenge. There will be no squaring of personal accounts," he said. "There will be no kicking of those who have fallen out of their own fault and very rightly so."

Kaczynski credited his late brother, former Polish President Lech Kaczynski, with the party's strong showing. His brother was killed in the 2010 air crash in Russia that claimed the lives of the president and many of Poland's top leaders.

If the exit poll results are confirmed, the Law and Justice will take 242 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament and 58-year-old lawmaker Beata Szydlo will become Poland's next prime minister.

Beata Szydlo, the Law and Justice Party's candidate for prime minister, leaves after voting at a polling station in Przecieszyn. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Pro-NATO, euroskeptic party

Law and Justice is strongly pro-NATO but also more skeptical of the 28-nation European Union, of which Poland is a member. The party opposes adopting the euro currency and is strongly anti-refugee, positions that are expected to have a broader impact on the whole EU.

The Civic Platform party was seen as falling out of touch with what was happening in Poland and with ordinary voters. In her victory speech, Szydlo promised to not let that happen.

"We are the same as our countrymen, we have not detached ourselves from reality," she said. "We must always remember that we are serving."

Law and Justice has promised to reverse an unpopular rise in the retirement age and put more money into the pockets of struggling families with tax breaks, monthly cash bonuses for children under 18 and free medication for people over 75. It also wants to raise taxes on the mostly foreign-owned banks and big supermarkets in Poland and give tax breaks to smaller local businesses and those that adopt Polish technologies.

According to the exit poll, for the first time in Poland's post-communist history, no left-wing forces appear to have won enough votes to enter into parliament.

Catholic support

For the first time in Poland's post-communist history, no left-wing forces appeared to have won enough votes Sunday to enter into parliament, according to the Ipsos exit poll.

It showed that only five parties gained enough votes to make it into parliament: Law and Justice; the centrist Civic Platform; a right-wing party led by rock star Pawel Kukiz; the new pro-business party Modern Poland led by a former World Bank economist and the Polish Peasants Party.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chairman of Law and Justice, gives autographs to supporters in Lublin during an election meeting on the last day of campaigning ahead of parliamentary elections. (Jakub Orzechowski/Reuters)

Two left-wing forces had been in the running: United Left, a coalition of several parties, and a new party, Together.

Civic Platform had led the country through a period of strong economic growth and political stability, even during the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and the 2010 plane crash that killed Poland's president. But the presidential vote in May signalled problems for Civic Platform when Law and Justice candidate Andrzej Duda edged out their incumbent.

The Catholic Church was seen as backing Law and Justice, as were many Poles who have not benefited from the country's strong economic growth, expected at 3.5 per cent this year.

The church backing has led to some fears that Law and Justice will try to ban in vitro fertilization and create a total ban on abortion.

For now, abortion in Poland is only allowed in rare cases, such as when the mother's life is at risk or the fetus is damaged.​

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