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Why young people in Poland are celebrating the election result

The right-wing, populist party which held power for eight years has been ousted, with three centrist and left-wing parties set to form a coalition government

Young people in Poland have been celebrating the victory of the country’s opposition parties, who have ousted the current right-wing, populist Law and Justice (PiS) party. 

The new government will likely be formed by three groups: the centrist Third Way (TD), the Left or ‘Lewica’, an alliance of leftist parties and movements, and the centrist, pro-EU Civic Coalition (KO), led by former Polish prime minister and EU chief Donald Tusk. It’s expected that these three parties will form a coalition led by Tusk. 

Tusk had described the parliamentary elections as the “last chance” to save democracy in Poland. “This is the end of grim times,” he said on Sunday night (October 15).

The final count showed PiS had received 35.4 per cent of the vote, while KO had 30.7 per cent. TD had 14.4 per cent, while Lewica had 8.6 per cent. The three opposition parties should now be able to put together a coalition that would form a comfortable majority in the 460-seat parliament.

Election officials estimate that turnout was around 72.9 per cent, the highest since the fall of communism in 1989. There were long queues at polling stations on Sunday, with some voters in the city of Wrocław standing in line until the early hours of the morning waiting to vote, six hours after the polls officially closed at 9pm. Ipsos polling also found that a larger proportion of 18- to 29-year-olds had turned out to vote than over-60s.

Julia, 23, says she’s “relieved” to hear the result, and explains that she’s glad to see a high turnout among young people. “The last few years have ignited a spark of motivation in us. I’ve seen people encouraging each other to vote on social media. I’ve talked to my peers, we all kept spreading awareness and educating ourselves, and also our families. I’ve watched my friends and young public figures post online, proudly holding their ballots,” she says. “It was truly amazing to witness. I’m glad we collectively cared and actually showed up. I believe we’re making history and the future is in our hands.”

Poland has desperately needed this change especially after the last few years where the ruling party absolutely destroyed the economy and social rights of citizens” – Paula

“The high voter turnout from the youth is actually not that surprising to me, as I have been speaking to friends of mine and they all had plans to vote,” adds 21-year-old Paula. “We all had too much to lose. I think the young generation in Poland realised that we, as the future of this country, have to vote and change the course of history. Young people in Poland are highly motivated and more engaged in politics in recent years, because we all saw how terrible things in Poland became when the older generations had the upper hand in elections.”

28-year-old MJ agrees that the high youth turnout is “not unexpected” and adds that young people are “itching for change”, having seen the same faces in politics for years now. “It’s quite clear that the currently ruling PiS doesn’t care to offer much to anyone under 30 [...] and it’s the massive turnout from determined younger voters that pushed them out of power,” she says.

The result heralds a significant shift in Poland, as PiS has been in power for eight years. “Poland has desperately needed this change, especially after the last few years where the ruling party absolutely destroyed the economy and social rights of citizens,” Paula explains. Notably, in the last eight years PiS has attacked the EU; attempted to install political allies in legal institutions and courts, which are supposed to be neutral; encouraged LGBTQ+ hate; and imposed draconian abortion restrictions. “As a woman, I am especially happy that we have the chance to have a government which might finally respect women’s rights as a whole,” Paula continues.

It’s likely the new, progressive coalition will be led by Tusk, leader of the KO party, but many young people voted for Lewica, the more left-wing option. Still, Paula is optimistic. “The party I voted for didn’t do as well as we expected, they will still likely be a part of the government, which is brilliant,” she says.

28-year-old MJ says she also expected Lewica to win more votes, but is still “satisfied” with the result. “We’re close to what I’d consider the best-case scenario: far from ideal, given that the government that’s likely to coalesce will be centre-right, but the coalition can’t form without the left-wing, pro-migrant, pro-abortion, pro-LGBTQ party,” she says. “This means that, for the first time in 18 years, a left-wing party will form part of the government in Poland. A far cry from what we have today, and a beacon of hope for women and marginalised communities.”

The situation isn’t perfect, but it’s hugely welcome news that will make a tangible, positive difference to the lives of Polish people – especially women and the LGBTQ+ community. “I have faith that better times are coming and I won’t have to leave the country as I was planning to,” Julia says. “There’s a long way ahead of us: the President is from PiS and can slow down change, the coalition parties don’t see eye-to-eye in many key aspects of government and we have eight years of nepotism and hostile legislation to undo,” MJ adds. “But, finally, it feels like the representatives of Poland are catching up with the rapidly changing and liberalising population [...] there’s reason to celebrate.”

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