Poland’s outgoing government loses confidence vote

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reacts after losing confidence vote at the parliament (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reacts after losing confidence vote at the parliament (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk) Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reacts after losing confidence vote at the parliament (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government lost a confidence vote in parliament on Monday, ending the rule of his national conservative party after eight years in power.

The vote paves the way for the majority in parliament to elect Donald Tusk, a centrist and former EU leader, as prime minister, a role he held already from 2007-2014.

Lawmakers plan to tap him later on Monday.

Poland Politics
Poland Politics The national conservatives who have ruled Poland for eight years are expected to finally relinquish power to a centrist bloc led by political veteran Donald Tusk (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Mr Morawiecki’s government was defeated 266-190 in the 460-seat lower house.

The vote was a key step in a power transition that began in the Polish parliament on Monday, where the outgoing national conservative leaders made their farewell statements.

The power transition, two months after Poles turned out in huge numbers to vote for change, was delayed for weeks by the president, who chose to keep his political allies in office as long as possible.

Parliamentary proceedings have ignited widespread curiosity and emotions, leading to a spike in the number of subscribers to the Sejm’s YouTube channel.

Szymon Holownia, a former TV showman who leads a party allied with Tusk, became the speaker of parliament last month and has been trying to encourage discipline in the sometimes raucous assembly.

A Warsaw cinema that livestreamed Monday’s proceedings drew hundreds of spectators who munched popcorn and erupted in laughter as the outgoing prime minister spoke.

Poland Politics Cinema
Poland Politics Cinema People fill a cinema to watch a speech to parliament by outgoing Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)

Justyna Lemanska, a young female ad agency employee in the audience, said: “So many disturbing things took place in the past eight years that I’m not surprised by this joy that it’s over.”

The change of power in Poland is felt as hugely consequential for the 38 million citizens of the central European nation, where collective anger produced a record-high turnout to replace a government that had been eroding democratic norms.

There is relief for many women who saw reproductive rights eroded and LGBTQ+ people who faced a government hate campaign that drove some to leave the country.

Law and Justice supporters, however, fear the new government will promote more liberal policies that conflict with many of their conservative views.

The change also has implications for Ukraine and the EU.

Mr Tusk is expected to improve Warsaw’s standing in Brussels.

Poland Politics
Poland Politics Donald Tusk is expected to be sworn in as the newest prime minister (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

His leadership of the EU’s fifth largest member by population will boost centrist, pro-EU forces at a time when Eurosceptics, such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, are gaining strength.

Poland’s outgoing government was initially one of Kyiv’s strongest allies after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, but ties have worsened as economic competition from Ukrainian food producers and truckers has angered Poles who say their livelihoods are threatened.

In his speech to Parliament, Mr Morawiecki listed his government’s achievements and his desire for reconciliation in a society so divided it sometimes seems at war with itself.

“We must end the Polish-Polish war,” he said, to applause from his supporters but laughter from critics who remember years of divisive policies.

Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski himself defined liberal opponents as “Poles of the worst sort”.

“Let’s choose dialogue. Let’s look for what unites us,” Mr Morawiecki said

Poland Politics
Poland Politics The leader of Poland’s opposition Donald Tusk is scheduled to address lawmakers Tuesday before facing a confidence vote he seems sure to win (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)

Before the confidence vote, Mr Kaczynski, the driving force in the country for the past eight years, pledged that Law and Justice would pursue its goals until a future victory was possible.

The final act in the transition of power will take place when President Andrzej Duda swears in Mr Tusk and his government. This is expected to take place on Wednesday.

Mr Tusk plans to fly to Brussels for an EU summit later in the week where discussions critical for Ukraine’s future will take place.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Russia’s closest ally in the EU, is demanding that Ukraine’s membership in the EU and billions of euros in funding meant for the war-torn country be taken off the agenda.