An exit poll has indicated that Poland’s conservative ruling party Law and Justice has won the most votes in the country’s general election.
The exit poll conducted by the research firm Ipsos and released on Sunday night projects that Law and Justice won 43.6% of the votes. The party has governed Poland since 2015 and is popular for its social conservatism and generous social spending.
According to the projections, that would translate into a majority of seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, giving the party the chance to govern the country for another four years.
Law and Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński is considered the real power behind Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government. After the exit poll was released, Kaczyński declared victory. Despite noting it was not the final result, he said: “We have a victory: despite a powerful front, we managed to win.”
The poll projected that a centrist pro-European Union umbrella group, Civic Coalition, was second with 27.4%. The coalition’s biggest party is Civic Platform, which governed Poland from 2007 to 2015.
Other parties that seemed likely to surpass a 5% threshold to get into parliament are a leftwing alliance, which had 11.9% in the poll; the conservative agrarian Polish People’s Party had 9.6%; and a new far-right alliance called Confederation had 6.4%.
The exit poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. Official results were expected by Tuesday.
Critics believe four more years for Law and Justice will reverse the democratic achievements of this eastern European nation, citing an erosion of judicial independence and of minority rights since the party took power in 2015.
Law and Justice’s apparent success stems from policies that have helped even out economic inequalities. It is the first party since the fall of communism to break with the austerity of previous governments. Its free-market policies took a moribund communist economy and transformed it into one of Europe’s most dynamic.
However, many Poles were left out of that transformation and inequalities grew, creating grievances. Law and Justice has skilfully addressed those concerns with popular programs, including one that gives away 500 złoty (£102) to families per month per child, taking the edge off poverty for some and giving others more disposable income. It says the funds come from a tighter tax collection system.
Law and Justice’s overhaul of the judicial system has given the party unprecedented power over Poland’s prosecution system and courts. In reaction, the EU has repeatedly said the rule of law was threatened and has sanctioned the country, blunting some of the changes, but not all.
The ruling party has used taxpayer-funded public media, which is supposed to be nonpartisan, to hail the party’s achievements and denigrate political rivals.
It also ran a campaign targeting the LGBT movement, depicting it as a grave threat to the nation’s culture and children. Defending the traditional family in a country where most people are Roman Catholics is a message that has found favour with many.