Opposition leader Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform emerged as the big winners of Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Poland. With 41.4 percent, the Civic Platform won 209 seats in the 460-member Parliament, after early elections Tusk and the Kaczynski twins (Prime Minister Jaroslav and President Lech) had labeled "decisive" for the country.
The Kaczynskis’ Law and Justice Party, or PiS, which had governed the country for the past two years, took 31.2 percent of the ballot, or 166 parliamentary seats. Tusk’s Civic Platform rose to power aided by the largest turnout since the fall of Communism in 1989 -- in Warsaw, chaotic scenes in overcrowded polling stations delayed initial election results, prompting the seemingly nervous Tusk to label the waiting as his life's longest hours.
When officials finally announced the first results, Jaroslav Kaczynski blamed his country’s unfriendly media for the loss. Experts, however, say other reasons are behind Tusk’s triumph.
"People were frustrated by the confrontational political course that divided Poland and hurt the country’s standing in the European Union," Kai-Olaf Lang, Poland expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a Berlin-based think tank, Monday told United Press International in a telephone interview. "Moreover, PiS has led a weak campaign. Nevertheless, the intensity of the Civic Platform’s election victory still is surprising."
It seems Polish voters had a desire to turn the tide and oust at least Jaroslav Kaczynski, the prime minister, who will lead a "determined opposition," he said. Lech will remain in his presidential seat (he was directly elected by the people in 2005) until 2010. In the past two years both had managed to severely damage relations with Germany and marginalize Poland within the EU.
Ahead of a June EU summit, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted to revive the body's constitution, Poland with Nazi-era references sought to pressure Germany to give into Polish claims for a voting system different than the one Berlin (and virtually all other EU countries) had in mind. Recently, they raised eyebrows in Europe for refusing to back a planned "European Day Against the Death Penalty."
In Brussels, officials were visibly happy about the election result.
"I pay tribute to the democratic process in Poland," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. "I am confident that there will be a fruitful cooperation with the next Polish government."
Yet while Brussels is happy about the victory of Tusk’s Civic Platform, a pro-EU party, a new government (Tusk launched coalition talks Monday) will likely also change its foreign policy course, and that could directly affect relations with the United States.
Defied in Europe, the Kaczynskis had significantly deepened Polish-U.S. ties. Despite unfavorable public opinion, the PiS government has lobbied for the installation of a U.S.-run anti-missile system with a radar station in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland.
The country is also active in U.S.- and NATO-led stability missions: Poland has 900 troops in Iraq and 1,200 soldiers with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
PiS had campaigned to extend the Iraq mission, while Tusk in a TV debate accused Jaroslav Kaczynski of putting "the lives of Polish soldiers at risk."
Twenty-one Polish troops have been killed in Iraq, and Tusk and senior officials from his Civic Platform have vowed that they will end Poland’s Iraq contribution after the mission runs out by the end of this year. Tusk has also announced he will take a more critical stance toward the U.S. anti-missile system, but Lang, the German expert, said those threats were partly "campaign rhetoric" intended to "drive up the price" Washington will have to pay Warsaw for placing the system on Polish soil.
"I don’t think the new government will rush into significantly different relations with the United States and force through decisions that would seriously damage ties with Washington," he said.