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WARSAW: Poland is gearing up for close-fought elections on Sunday that could ramp up tensions with the EU and neighbouring Ukraine, as the ruling populists bid for a third consecutive term in power against the liberal opposition led by former EU chief Donald Tusk.

While all the polls put the ruling populist Law and Justice (PiS) in first place, they show the party is highly unlikely to win an overall majority.

Its most likely partner would be the far-right Confederation party, which has called for an end to aid to Ukraine.

A poll this week by the Ibris Foundation conducted on October 9-10 showed PiS and Confederation together scoring a narrow majority in Poland’s 460-seat parliament.

But another poll by the same organisation also conducted this week showed the two parties falling just short of a majority.

Instead it showed the second-placed Civic Coalition, the liberal opposition led by former EU chief and ex-premier Donald Tusk, able to form a majority with two smaller parties – Third Road and Left.

“PiS is not going to form the next government in Poland,” said Wojciech Przybylski, a political analyst from the Visegrad Insight group, pointing out that a PiS-Confederation alliance was unlikely. “The opposition is more likely now to form a next coalition government.”

Anti-migrant rhetoric

PiS supporters say victory will allow the party to fulfil its vision of a strong, sovereign Poland based on traditional values including upholding an abortion ban.

Some supporters are more grudging.

Donald Tusk: sharp-tongued fighter who led EU through crises

“There’s nothing better coming,” said Eugeniusz Krzyszton, a 71-year-old small-scale farmer living in Godziszow, a municipality which voted 89 percent for PiS in the last elections in 2019.

Asked about the economic problems Poland has experienced in recent years, he said: “The government is trying its best”.

The campaign has been highly polarised and divisive, characterised by personal attacks on Tusk by the ruling party which has accused him of operating in the interests of Germany, Russia and the EU.

The ruling party has also ramped up rhetoric against migrants, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Thursday saying Polish families should be protected against illegal immigrants “who have no respect for our culture”.

The opposition says a PiS victory would lead to growing tensions with the EU and accuses the government of planning “Polexit” – a departure from the bloc.

Many opposition supporters and non-governmental organisations also warn that a third term in power would further undermine democratic freedoms, such as rule of law and media rights.

“It’s high time that we return back to normal, to the rule of law, to freedom of choice and of speech,” Monika Pieleszynska, a 43-year-old clerk, said at a massive opposition rally this month.

‘Damage’ to Ukraine ties

Dorota Dakowska, a politics professor at Sciences Po Aix in southern France, said this was “the most important election” since the first vote of the post-communist period in 1989.

“What is at play is the future of democracy in Poland and the future of Poland as a democracy and a country of rule of law,” she said.

Ukraine is also watching warily as any Polish government featuring Confederation could steer Warsaw firmly away from a strongly pro-Ukraine course.

Poland has been a leading cheerleader for Ukraine in the EU and NATO and has taken in a million Ukrainian refugees, but there is growing fatigue among many Poles.

The government has also recently fallen out with Ukraine over a grain import ban aimed at protecting Polish farmers.

Marcin Zaborowski, an expert at the Globsec think tank, said the ruling party has adopted a chillier stance towards Ukraine in a bid for nationalist votes.

“After the elections, it may be too late to go back on this since the damage will have been done,” Zaborowski said.

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