WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk said that three opposition parties had enough votes to win the general election on Sunday after an exit poll said they had enough votes to oust the governing conservative nationalist Law and Justice party.
The Ipsos exit poll suggested that the opposition together has likely won 248 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, the Sejm. Law and Justice, according to the projection, obtained 200 seats, while the far-right Confederation got 12 seats.
“I am the happiest man on earth,” Tusk said. “Democracy has won. Poland has won.”
Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski acknowledged that the outcome was uncertain.
The exit poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Three opposition parties, Civic Coalition, Third Way and the New Left, ran on separate tickets but with the same promises of seeking to oust Law and Justice and restore good ties with the European Union.
Votes were still being counted and the state electoral commission says it expects to have final results by Tuesday morning.
Many Poles feel it is the most important election since 1989, when a new democracy was born after decades of communism. At stake are the health of the nation’s constitutional order, its legal stance on LGBTQ+ rights and abortion, and the foreign alliances of a country that has been a crucial ally to Ukraine after Russia launched its full-scale invasion.
Law and Justice has eroded checks and balances to gain more control over state institutions, including the courts, public media and the electoral process itself.
Support for the party has shrunk since the last election in 2019 amid high inflation, allegations of cronyism and bickering with European allies. Law and Justice won nearly 44% of the vote in 2019, but has been polling in recent weeks at more than 30%.
Others see economic threats in the way the party has governed and believe that high social spending has helped to fuel inflation.
There is also a high level of state ownership in the Polish economy, and the governing party has built up a system of patronage, handing out thousands of jobs and contracts to its loyalists.
The EU, whose funding has driven much of the economic transformation, is withholding billions in funding to Poland over what it views as democratic erosion.
The fate of Poland’s relationship with Ukraine is also at stake. The Confederation party campaigned on an anti-Ukraine message, accusing the country of lacking gratitude to Poland for its help in Russia’s war.
While Poland has been a staunch ally of Ukraine and a transit hub for Western weapons, relations chilled over the Ukrainian grain that entered Poland’s market.
Around 29 million Poles from age 18 were eligible to vote. They were choosing 460 members of the lower house, or Sejm, and 100 for the Senate for four-year terms.
A referendum on migration, the retirement age and other issues is being held simultaneously. Opposition groups oppose the referendum, accusing the government of seeking to tap into emotions. Some called on voters to boycott the referendum.
More than 31,000 voting stations operated across Poland, while there were more than 400 voting stations abroad. In a sign of the emotions generated by the vote, more than 600,000 Poles registered to vote abroad.
On Friday, the Foreign Ministry fired its spokesman after he said that not all the votes cast abroad could be counted before the deadline for submitting them, which would cause them to be invalidated. The ministry said he was dismissed for spreading “false information.”
Individual parties need to get at least 5% of votes to win seats in parliament, while coalitions need at least 8% of votes.