Poland votes in key election amid rising nationalism, Ukraine war

Ruling conservative nationalist party is pitted against an opposition that accuses the government of eroding democracy.

Poland election
A woman votes during Poland's parliamentary election at a polling station in the village of Gluchow [Lukasz Glowala/Reuters]

Poland is voting in a key election that would significantly impact the country’s local and foreign policies.

People headed to the ballots on Sunday, with voting expected to end at 9pm local time (19:00 GMT). Nearly 30 million people are eligible to vote and turnout is expected to be among the highest in years.

The ruling United Right (ZP) coalition led by the nationalist conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party hopes will earn it an unprecedented third term in office, while the opposition warns it could put the country on a path towards leaving the European Union.

Political analysts say Poland could face a period of instability if PiS fails to secure a majority.

PiS has cast the election as a choice between security from unfettered migration, which it says its opponents support, and a creeping westernisation it sees as contrary to Poland’s Catholic character.

“This election will show whether Poland will be governed by Poles, or by Berlin or Brussels,” PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told supporters at the party’s last campaign rally on Friday.

“What will win is good, patriotic governance … not the screaming and hatred that fill the media and which affect weaker minds,” he said in Skarzysko-Kamienna, a city in the PiS heartland in southeastern Poland.

Since sweeping to power in 2015, the party has been accused of undermining democratic checks and balances, politicising the courts, using publicly owned media to push its own propaganda, and stirring up homophobia.

PiS denies wrongdoing, or wanting to leave the EU, and says its reforms aim to make the country and its economy more fair while removing the last vestiges of communism. It has built its support on generous social handouts, which it says rival parties will stop.

Its main rival, the liberal Civic Coalition (KO), led by former European Council president Donald Tusk, has campaigned on a pledge to undo PiS reforms, hold its leaders to account and resolve conflicts with Brussels over democratic rule. Tusk says his party would maintain social support.

“We need change if you care about fundamental values such as trust, accountability, tolerance to dominate public life again,” Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, a senior KO official, told voters on Friday in Kalisz, in central Poland.

The outcome of the elections will be important not just to Poles, but also to policymakers in the United States, across Europe, and especially to Ukraine and Russia.

Poland has been central to the West’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as it has equipped Kyiv with German-made Leopard 2 tanks and Polish MiG-29 fighters. The country has also taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies