WARSAW: Poles are electing a new parliament on Sunday as the governing conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) seeks to maintain its outright majority in the lower house.
Political commentators, especially those critical of the government, are calling it the country’s most important election since 1989, when the transition to democracy began.
Critics fear that yet another term in office for PiS may push Poland further down the path towards illiberal democracy, an allegation that PiS deems groundless.
By noon on Sunday, 18.1 per cent of eligible voters had cast their votes, the state electoral commission said. Four years ago, the corresponding number was 16.5 per cent.
Poles are selecting 460 lawmakers for the Sejm, the lower house and main legislative body, as well as 100 members of the Senate, an oversight and review chamber.
PiS was the clear leader in opinion polls ahead of the Sunday ballot and is expected to win between 40 and 49 per cent of the vote, which could potentially give it an outright majority in the lower house.
The main opposition forces — the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Christian Democrat agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL) — hope in turn that their combined support can top that of PiS, allowing them to form a coalition government.
The common denominator of the opposition is a pro-EU stance and a pledge to undo controversial broad institutional reforms introduced by PiS in the last four years, including to the judiciary, which put the country at loggerheads with the European Commission.
Polling stations are scheduled to close at 9 pm, when the first exit polls are expected to be published.
Meanwhile, backed by outgoing EU Council President Donald Tusk — from Poland and Kaczynski’s arch-rival on the domestic scene — the opposition Citizen’s Coalition (KO) draws mainly on urban voters upset by the PiS’s divisive politics, judicial reforms threatening the rule of law, graft scandals and monopolisation of public media.
“I voted for democracy, to safeguard the future of my grandchildren,” Jadwiga Sperska, a 64-year-old working pensioner and KO supporter, said outside a Warsaw polling station.
“The current government’s direction could lead us out of the EU,” she added.
Condemning the anti-LGBT drive and close church ties, but sharing the PIS’s welfare goals, the left is set to return to parliament after a four-year hiatus.
“I support an open, tolerant society, without aggression and with same-sex unions,” said Monika Pronkiewicz, a 31-year-old public sector worker and left-wing voter in Warsaw.
Two separate opinion polls published on Friday suggested the PiS’s majority could be at risk as its support was on par with the combined score of three opposition groups — the centrist KO, a leftist coalition and a farmers’ party. — AFP