WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice party capitalized on its popular social spending policies to win a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament but lost control of the Senate, according to results reported Monday.
When exit polls were released after voting ended Sunday evening, the ruling Law and Justice party appeared headed for a strong victory. The results from the Senate, however, indicate that the opposition will have a tool to prevent the ruling party from rushing through laws without consulting opposition parties — something it has often done during its four years in power.
Opposition candidates appeared to have secured a slim majority of 51 seats in the 100-seat upper house of parliament. The Senate is less powerful than the 460-seat lower house but can delay legislation already passed in the lower house. It also appoints officials to several important state bodies.
In the lower house, Law and Justice won just under 44% of Sunday’s vote, up from 38% in 2015, the state electoral commission said. Under the Polish system for seat distribution, the party would still have a majority in the lower house of parliament, but only a few seats more than before.
The Civic Coalition, a centrist alliance built around the Civic Platform party, once led by EU leader Donald Tusk, was running second with over 27% support.
Turnout was at a record high of over 61% in a sign of how important voters on all sides considered this election.
Law and Justice, which has governed Poland since 2015, is popular both for its social conservatism and generous social spending, including a program that gives families a monthly stipend of 500 zlotys ($125) for each child. It ran a campaign that highlighted its social programs and vowed to defend traditional Catholic values.
Despite the win, Law and Justice leaders were not overly enthusiastic. The result left them short of the two-thirds majority that they sought to change the constitution as they seek to reshape Poland into a modern state rooted in a conservative Roman Catholic worldview rejecting abortion and gay rights.
Some unpopular ruling party officials failed to win seats at all, including Stanislaw Piotrowicz, a communist-era state prosecutor who was a key architect in controversial laws that reshaped Poland’s judicial system.
According to the European Union, the ruling party’s overhaul of Poland’s courts and public prosecution has eroded the country’s judicial independence.
In other results, a left-wing coalition build around the Democratic Left Alliance came in third with over 12% support, which brought the left back into parliament after having no representation there over the past four years.
The conservative agrarian Polish People’s Party, in alliance with an anti-establishment party led by a rock star, Kukiz 15, got nearly 9% in Sunday’s vote. Confederation, a new far-right group that is openly anti-Semitic and homophobic, was to enter parliament after winning 6.8%.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the campaign, said “clear media bias” and intolerant rhetoric detracted from an otherwise well-run election.
“These elections were well-organized ahead of the vote, but while voters stepping into the polling booth had numerous options available to them, their ability to make an informed choice was undermined by a lack of impartiality in the media, especially the public broadcaster,” said Jan Petersen, who headed the election observation mission.
Petersen said “the use of discriminatory rhetoric by a number of leading political figures is of serious concern in a democratic society.”
The right-wing ruling party used public media to promote its successes and to cast a poor light on the opposition. Public media, in many cases, also depicted the LGBT rights movement as a dire threat to Poland, echoing the rhetoric ofthe ruling party, Confederation and the Catholic Church.
Monika Scislowska contributed to this report.