Poland’s prime minister has lost a vote of confidence in parliament, clearing the path for a three-way pro-European alliance of opposition parties headed by the former European Council leader Donald Tusk to take power later this week.
The vote on Monday brought to an end eight years of rule by the nationalist Law & Justice (PiS) party, accused of illegally eroding the rule of law, turning state media into propaganda outlets, rolling back minority rights and fomenting feuds with the EU.
Nearly two months after an election from which PiS emerged as the largest party but with no way to form a majority, the outgoing prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, tasked by the president with forming a new government, was defeated by 266 votes to 190.
Parliament later on Monday formally backed Tusk – who was prime minister of Poland between 2007 and 2014 – as Morawiecki’s successor, with a vote of confidence in his proposed government scheduled to follow on Tuesday.
Tusk’s cabinet could be sworn in on Wednesday, allowing him to travel to Brussels for an EU summit on Thursday and Friday as prime minister. He has promised to unblock billions of euros in EU aid frozen because of longstanding tensions with Brussels.
“Ready, Steady, Go!” Tusk wrote on the X social media platform, reflecting the sense of anticipation felt by supporters of his opposition alliance, made up of Tusk’s Civic Coalition (KO), the centre-right Third Way and the Left.
“Today I would like to once again sincerely thank everyone who turned out to vote on October 15,” Szymon Hołownia, the lower chamber’s speaker and a Third Way member, said after the confidence vote. “It is thanks to you that history is being made today.”
Interest in Monday’s proceedings was so high that a Warsaw cinema relayed the parliamentary session to a packed house. Subscriptions to the lower chamber’s YouTube channel have soared, with some debates attracting more than 1 million viewers.
Morawiecki told the Sejm, or lower chamber, on Monday that what he described as “a sovereign Poland” under PiS had provided high standards of living. “We introduced a new socioeconomic model, the first steps in a country of solidarity,” he said.
He also called for “a Europe of fatherlands”, saying PiS “does not agree to taking away competences from states”. Tusk has vowed to reverse PiS measures eroding judicial and media independence and end Poland’s “devastating conflict” with the EU.
However, analysts have said he will have his work cut out. “There won’t be any miracles” as the new government will face daily battles with PiS, which “will continue to fight”, said Jarosław Kuisz, a political analyst.
Kuisz said progress would be “like going through mud” and quick change was unlikely as PiS was leaving “a judicial minefield” in its wake. The party has allies in the central bank, supreme court and other key judicial and financial institutions.
It also dominates state media organisations, which have become a government mouthpiece during its rule, and Andrzej Duda – who is not due to step down as president until elections in 2025 – could veto legislation brought to him by the majority.
Kuisz said PiS had used the two months since the elections “to reinforce itself institutionally and financially”, including by naming former ministers to head up important state bodies and nominating and approving 150 new judges loyal to the party.
Jakub Jaraczewski, a research coordinator at Democracy Reporting International, a German-based thinktank, said negotiating with Duda would probably prove “difficult. He will be reluctant to allow any change to laws he himself signed into force over the last eight years.”
In a separate development, Poland’s constitutional tribunal, dismissed by critics as a politicised body loyal to PiS, ruled on Monday that judicial reform laws needed before Poland can access EU funds were not compatible with the constitution.
Brussels has withheld billions of euros in Covid-19 recovery funds in an increasingly bitter row over Poland’s rule of law, and has required reform on issues such as judicial independence and green energy before giving Warsaw the money.
The court also ruled that interim measures – imposed by the EU’s top court before it reaches a final ruling – were unconstitutional.
Reuters and Agence-France Presse contributed to this report
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