Poland’s largest opposition coalition, led by former European Council president Donald Tusk, staged a massive rally in Warsaw on Sunday, hoping to sway voters ahead of a tight parliamentary election on 15 October.
Tusk, who returned to Polish politics earlier this year to challenge the ruling rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, called on his supporters to join the “march of a million hearts”, a show of strength and unity for the opposition.
The rally, which coincided with the 34th anniversary of Poland’s first postwar democratic election, drew hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of the capital, waving flags and banners with slogans such as “We want a better Poland” and “Stop PiS”.
Tusk said the rally was the last chance to save democracy in Poland, which he claimed was under threat from PiS’s controversial reforms of the judiciary, media and education. He also accused PiS of undermining Poland’s relations with its western allies and the European Union.
“We are here because we love Poland and we want to defend it from those who want to destroy it,” Tusk told the crowd. “We are here because we believe in a Poland that is free, tolerant, open and European.”
PiS, which came to power in 2015, has increased its popularity by boosting social spending and appealing to rural and conservative voters. However, it has also faced criticism from the EU and human rights groups for eroding the rule of law and curtailing the rights of women and minorities.
Opinion polls suggest PiS will win the most votes in the election but fall short of a parliamentary majority. The main opposition is the liberal-centrist Civic Platform, which is part of Tusk’s Civic Coalition, along with other smaller parties.
The outcome of the election will depend on several factors, including the turnout, the performance of smaller parties and potential post-election alliances. Analysts say the race is too close to call and could result in a hung parliament or a fragile coalition government.
The rally in Warsaw was seen as a key moment in the campaign, as it could galvanize support for the opposition and mobilize undecided voters. Tusk said he hoped the rally would have a similar effect to one in June, which boosted his coalition’s ratings.
“It will be one of the biggest manifestations in recent years in Europe. It will be one of the biggest events in Polish politics since regaining independence,” he said.