Poland’s ruling nationalists appeared on Monday to have lost their parliamentary majority in the nation’s most pivotal election in decades, potentially opening the way for opposition parties to seize power in what would be a huge political shift.

Poland has repeatedly clashed with the European Union over the rule of law, media freedom, migration and LGBT rights since Law and Justice (PiS) came to power in 2015, but opposition parties have vowed to mend ties with Brussels and undo reforms critics say undermine democratic standards.

A late Ipsos exit poll published early on Monday gave PiS 36.6% of the vote, which would translate into 198 lawmakers in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.

Opposition parties, led by the former European Council president Donald Tusk’s liberal grouping Civic Coalition (KO), were projected to win a combined 248 seats, with the KO seen winning 31.0% of ballots cast.

Victory for the opposition in a vote seen by analysts as the most significant election for Europe in years, could potentially redefine the relationship between Brussels and the largest EU member state in central and eastern Europe.

KO lawmaker Cezary Tomczyk urged President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally,to invite Tusk to form a coalition government.

“We demand from the president that the democratic camp be able to choose a candidate for prime minister,” he told private broadcaster TVN 24. “The natural candidate for prime minister is Donald Tusk.”

However, if official results confirm the exit poll, Tusk and his allies from the centre-right Third Way and the New Left may have to wait weeks or even months before getting a turn at forming a government.

Duda has said he would give the first shot to the winning party, suggesting Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki or another senior PiS politician would receive the mandate. But with the far-right Confederation scoring 6.4%, according to exit polls, below expectations, he would have few obvious allies.

“Since the 1990s, it has been customary for presidents to hand the mission of forming a government to the leaders of the parties that won the elections,” said Joachim Brudzinski, a PiS member of the European Parliament who was in charge of his party’s campaign.

“It obviously seems to me that President Andrzej Duda will entrust this mission to Law and Justice.”

Brudzinski said it would be natural for PiS to talk to the centre-right Polish Peasants’s Party (PSL), part of Third Way about forming a coalition.

However, PSL leader Wladysław Kosiniak-Kamysz on Monday dismissed such an option.

“I am ruling out such a coalition… People who voted for us wanted change, they wanted PiS removed from power,” he told private radio RMF FM.


The late exit poll had been delayed,and some commentators linked this to a record turnout of nearly 73%, the highest since the fall of communism in 1989.

Television footage showed several hundred, mostly young people waiting in a long line at one polling station in the western city of Wrocław to vote. Local residents brought them hot tea, blankets and food.

Some of those in line said they had waited six hours. The polling station closed just before 3 a.m. (0100 GMT), some six hours after voting was officially meant to close.

Tusk, 66, was jubilant following the announcement of the first exit poll results on Sunday.

“Democracy has won … This is the end of the PiS government,” he told party members.

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 74, told officials gathered at the party’s headquarters in central Warsaw that it was not clear whether Sunday’s showing would translate into a new term in office.

“We have to have hope that regardless of whether we are in power or in opposition, our project will continue … We will not let Poland lose … the right to decide its own fate.”

Poland’s blue-chip WIG 20 .WIG20 share index was up 4.1% at 0704 GMT, while the zloty currency EURPLN= was around 1% firmer.