Donald Tusk has pledged to “chase away the darkness … chase away the evil” of eight divisive years of national-conservative rule, after Poland’s parliament voted to back his nomination as the country’s new prime minister.
“I want to thank Polish women and men,” the former European council president said after Monday’s vote. “Thank you, Poland. This is a wonderful day, not for me, but for all those who have deeply believed over these years that things will get even better.”
Tusk’s three-way alliance, which won a comfortable majority in October’s elections, would “fix everything together”, he promised. “From tomorrow, we will be able to right the wrongs so that everyone, without exception, can feel at home.”
Nearly two months after the elections in which the ruling nationalist Law & Justice (PiS) party emerged as the largest single party but with no viable path to power, MPs voted 248 in favour of, and 201 against, Tusk’s nomination as prime minister.
Earlier in a day of high drama in Warsaw, the outgoing PiS prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki – who had been asked by the president to try to form a new government – had failed in the task, losing a parliamentary confidence vote by 266 votes to 190.
In power since 2015, PiS has been accused of illegally eroding the rule of law, turning state media into propaganda outlets, rolling back minority rights and fomenting feuds with the EU, prompting Brussels to freeze tens of billions of euros of funds.
Mateusz Morawiecki speaks to Sejm on Monday, where his party lost the vote for forming a new government by 266 votes to 190. Photograph: Piotr Molęcki/East News/Shutterstock
Tusk, who has promised to mend relations with the bloc and get the money released, is scheduled to address parliament on Tuesday, presenting his cabinet and laying out the government’s plans, before facing the formality of a confidence vote.
Besides rebuilding bridges with Brussels, Tusk’s campaign pledges included promising to allow abortion – subject to a near-total ban under PiS – until 12 weeks, declaring termination, IVF and contraception fundamental rights, and allowing civil partnerships for same-sex couples.
His cabinet could be sworn in as soon on Wednesday, allowing him to attend an EU summit on Thursday and Friday as prime minister. “We are saying goodbye to PiS … History is being made,” said Monika Rosa, a KO lawmaker. Others called the moment the country’s biggest since the fall of communism.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, congratulated Tusk, saying: “Your experience and strong commitment to our European values will be precious in forging a stronger Europe, for the benefit of the Polish people.”
“Ready, steady, go!” Tusk wrote on the X social media platform, reflecting the sense of anticipation felt by supporters of his 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,” Third Way’s Szymon Hołownia, the lower chamber’s speaker, said after the confidence vote. “It is thanks to you that history is being made today.”
Interest in the proceedings was so high that a Warsaw cinema relayed the parliamentary session to a packed house. Many of those attending stood and cheered when Morawiecki lost his vote. Subscriptions to the lower chamber’s YouTube channel have soared, and some debates have attracted more than 1 million viewers.
Polish voters in a cinema react to the parliamentary vote. Photograph: Wojtek Radwański/AFP/Getty Images
Defending PiS’s legacy until the last, Morawiecki told the Sejm, or lower chamber, that what he described as “a sovereign Poland” under the party’s rule 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 important state bodies and by 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.”
Illustrating how tough the new government’s job could be, Poland’s constitutional tribunal – dismissed by critics and the European Commission as a politicised body loyal to PiS – ruled on Monday that judicial reform laws needed before Poland can access EU funds were unconstitutional.
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.
The court also ruled that interim measures – imposed by the EU’s top court before it reaches a final ruling – were not compatible with the Polish constitution, potentially dashing Tusk’s hopes of obtaining EU funds any time soon.