Poland’s opposition leader Donald Tusk addressed a massive crowd of supporters in Warsaw on Sunday, two weeks before a parliamentary election that could determine the future of the country’s democracy and its relations with the European Union.
Tusk, who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2014 and then as president of the European Council until 2019, returned to Polish politics earlier this year to challenge the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which he accused of undermining the rule of law, curtailing civil rights and isolating Poland from its allies.
“A breakthrough moment is coming in the history of our homeland,” Tusk told the cheering crowd, which he claimed numbered more than a million people. “Let no one among the ruling team have any illusions. Change for the better is inevitable.”
Tusk’s Civic Coalition, a centrist alliance of pro-European parties, is hoping to win enough votes to form a government with other opposition groups and end PiS’s six-year grip on power. PiS, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has pursued a nationalist agenda that has clashed with EU values and sparked several legal disputes with Brussels.
PiS leaders have portrayed Tusk as a traitor who sold out Poland’s interests to Germany and abandoned his country for a lucrative job in Brussels. They have also accused him of corruption and incompetence during his time as prime minister.
“This vote is not only about what Poland will look like. It is about whether Poland will exist at all,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a rival rally in Katowice on Sunday, holding up a file he said contained damaging information about Tusk.
Tusk has denied the allegations and dismissed them as political smears. He has tried to reclaim the language of patriotism for the opposition and appeal to moderate voters who are disillusioned with PiS’s divisive policies and rhetoric.
Polls suggest that PiS and Civic Coalition are neck-and-neck, with neither side likely to win an outright majority. The final outcome will depend on the performance of several smaller parties and the possibility of post-election coalitions.
The election, scheduled for October 15, is widely seen as a pivotal moment for Poland’s democracy and its place in Europe. The stakes are high not only for Poland, but also for the EU, which is facing multiple challenges such as Brexit, migration and climate change.