Donald Tusk, leader of the Polish opposition’s Civic Coalition, speaks during election night in Warsaw.

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Poland’s election result may not go down well in Moscow, as observers describe a victory for liberal centrism and an expected thawing of the country’s frosty relations with both the EU and neighboring Ukraine.

The incumbent Law and Justice (PiS) party won the highest share of votes in Sunday’s election with 35.4% – but opposition groups are expected to form a parliamentary majority.

Donald Tusk – leader of the center-right Civic Platform party and figurehead of the anti-PiS opposition – positioned the vote as an opportunity to restore democratic norms and liberal values ​​in the country after eight years of nationalist, socially conservative rhetoric and policymaking.

“It is unlikely that Moscow will welcome a decisive victory by political parties with a strong pro-EU and pro-Ukraine stance,” Andrius Tursa, Central and Eastern Europe consultant at consulting firm Teneo, told CNBC.

As Russia turns its attention to building closer ties with states such as China and India, EU unity remains a thorn in Putin’s side as nations agree on further Russian sanctions and military and economic support packages for Ukraine.

Poland has the European Union’s fifth-largest economy and population and has been an influential member since 2004. As a NATO base, it plays a significant geopolitical role with around 10,000 US soldiers stationed in the country. It has taken in more than a million refugees from its close ally Ukraine since the war began, and many more millions have passed through the country.

However, relations with the EU have been strained during PiS’s eight years of rule because of Warsaw’s near-total ban on abortion, which is said to be a restriction on media freedom. The bloc has withheld billions in funding from Poland because it fears the independence of the judiciary could erode.

Relations with Ukraine have deteriorated in recent months, including due to a dispute over the impact of Ukrainian grain imports on local farmers. Ukraine filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization about Polish restrictions on its products. The dispute ultimately led to Poland announcing it would no longer supply weapons to Ukraine.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, delivers a speech during a final election campaign event in Krakow, Poland, on October 11, 2023.

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Ukraine reset

As a former president of the European Council, Tusk will likely aim to bring Poland back into the EU, freeing up the bloc’s resources and potentially making Poland less obstructive to EU policies.

“From a regional perspective, the opposition’s victory prevents the emergence of a populist Eurosceptic alliance in Central Europe (along with Hungary and Slovakia), which could have led to further internal tensions in the EU,” says Sili Tian, ​​​​Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, it said in a statement on Monday.

Tian also expects the outcome will “reposition Poland as a staunch supporter of Ukraine” and that Tusk will push for Ukraine’s EU accession.

According to Aleks Szczerbiak, a politics professor and department head at the University of Sussex, the recent dispute with the war-torn country was partly fueled by the election campaign.

“Law and Justice felt increasingly pressured because its own polls showed that its supporters, while pro-Ukrainian, believed that there were issues where Polish and Ukrainian interests clashed, where Polish interests needed to be represented Szczerbiak said by phone.

This was exacerbated by the electoral threat of the far-right Confederation Party, which accused Kiev of not being grateful enough for the weapons it had previously supplied, promised to restrict the passage of Ukrainian refugees, and sharply criticized the EU and Poland’s foreign policy approach towards Ukraine during the war .

The Confederation Party was previously seen as a potential kingmaker with whom Law and Justice could have formed a government, a move that could have pushed Poland even further to the right and soured its relationship with the EU. But the party fell well short of expectations, receiving 7.2% of the vote – almost as much as in the last election in 2019.

Strong foundation

The extent to which the former Soviet satellite state Poland would have abandoned support for Ukraine even in the event of a different election result should not be overestimated, noted Szczerbiak.

“When looking at Poland and Ukraine, the main thing to remember is that they have an overarching strategic common interest [challenging Russian aggression], and that replaces everything. Whatever the ups and downs of the relationship, they will remain important allies in the face of war,” he said.

Poland likely would have remained an important hub for routing humanitarian aid, supporting sanctions against Russia and as a transit and settlement point for Ukrainian refugees, Szczerbiak said.

There is also a part of the relationship that is beyond Poland’s control, he added.

“The prevailing view in Poland is that Ukraine fundamentally deviates from the formation of close relations with Warsaw and gives priority to relations with Berlin – that is so far.” [the] come to the pragmatic conclusion that Berlin will be the more important player if they seek EU membership. Therefore, it will be difficult to restore relations as they were in the first 18 months of the war, regardless of what Poland does.”

Rocky road ahead of us

The question now is how quickly the opposition will be able to form a government, how much unity that government will have and how much of its agenda it will be able to implement.

“It’s one thing to agree to form a coalition, but it’s another to actually govern and have a coherent policy agenda when you have three different groupings, all made up of multiple groups and all easily or clearly “There are different views on a number of issues,” Stanley Bill, a professor of Polish studies at the University of Cambridge, told CNBC by phone.

This disagreement is likely to extend to economic and social issues, including social spending and the liberalization of abortion laws.

The passage of laws can also face obstacles. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, has veto power; and a constitutional court made up of PiS allies has the ability to strike down laws.

“The president’s image shows strong sympathy for the PiS, but he wants to establish a somewhat independent position and be a sensible mediator when there is strong social support for a policy,” Bill said. “He has also expressed criticism of the PiS and vetoed some of its policies.”

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