Poland’s ruling party tops EU polls after campaign marked by restitution fight
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Poland’s ruling party tops EU polls after campaign marked by restitution fight

Law and Justice party (PiS), which opposes compensation for Jewish Holocaust victims over Nazi-seized properties, narrowly comes out ahead for first time

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of PiS party (Law and Justice) gives a speech after announcing the first results of the European parliament election at the party's headquarters in Warsaw on May 26, 2019. (Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP)
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of PiS party (Law and Justice) gives a speech after announcing the first results of the European parliament election at the party's headquarters in Warsaw on May 26, 2019. (Janek SKARZYNSKI / AFP)

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s governing right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) narrowly came out on top in European elections Sunday, exit polls showed, with its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski urging a wider victory in the next general election.

The PiS took 42.4 percent of the vote to win 24 of Poland’s 51 seats in the European Parliament compared with 39.1 percent and 22 seats for the liberal European Coalition, according to the IPSOS pollsters.

The progressive Spring party took 6.6 percent for three seats and 6.l percent (3 seats) went to the far-right Confederation group.

“We won but with a result that should push us to one thing: to work hard before the parliamentary elections this fall,” said Kaczynski at PiS campaign headquarters in Warsaw.

Far right demonstrators protest against the US Senate’s 447 Holocaust Restitution bill, in Warsaw on May 11, 2019. (Photo by Alik KEPLICZ / AFP)

“We got a lot but it’s not that much, it’s a little bit, it’s not much,” he added of the victory, which is the first time the PiS has topped the European polls.

Analysts echoed him with Warsaw-based political analyst Stanislaw Mocek calling the result “a tie in favor of the PiS.”

The party, in power since the 2015 general election, campaigned on a platform of generous social spending that saw its prime minister push hikes in pensions and child benefits through the Polish parliament.

The PiS campaign was also marked by strong rhetoric against gay rights and a refusal to honor Jewish claims for the compensation of properties lost during the Holocaust.

Last week, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki vowed that his country will never pay restitution for Jewish properties stolen during the Holocaust, saying that such a move would be a “victory for Hitler.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki listens during a joint press conference with Germany’s chancellor, at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on February 16, 2018. (Michele Tantussi/Getty Images via JTA)

At a campaign rally in Lodz, Morawiecki doubled down on his insistence that his Law & Justice party “would not consent” to claims of Holocaust restitution, telling voters “We will defend Poland.”

Poland is the only country in the European Union that has not passed comprehensive national legislation to return, or provide compensation for, private property confiscated by the Nazis or nationalized by the communist regime. Pre-war Poland was a Jewish heartland, with a centuries-old community numbering some 3.2 million, or around 10 percent of the country’s population at the time. Most Polish Jews were murdered in massacres or concentration camps.

Far right demonstrators protest against the US Senate’s 447 Holocaust Restitution bill, in Warsaw on May 11, 2019. (Alik KEPLICZ / AFP)

En route to a ‘Polexit’?

The PiS government has stoked tensions with the EU by introducing a string of controversial judicial reforms that Brussels says pose a threat to judicial independence, the rule of law and ultimately to democracy.

Warsaw has since backed out of some of the controversial legislation, but the opposition is still concerned that the PiS government’s clash with Brussels could pave the way to a “Polexit.”

Kaczynski has long been a fierce critic of the strong brand of EU federalism championed by the bloc’s powerhouses Germany and France.

He is among a growing number of populist leaders in the EU advocating a reform agenda for the bloc that favors national sovereignty over further integration and federalism.

PiS Prime Minister Morawiecki on Friday ruled out teaming up with France’s far-right National Rally but said his party was “ready to talk” with Italian and Spanish anti-immigrant and ultra-nationalist parties vying to enter the European Parliament.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said earlier this month that her “hand was always extended” to the PiS, but Kaczynski has ruled out any such cooperation due to her party’s links to Moscow.

The European Coalition (KE), an alliance of liberal, centrist and leftist opposition and extra-parliamentary parties, led by the main Civic Platform (PO) opposition party called its Sunday result “promising” ahead of the autumn general elections.

“We’ve proven that we want and are able to make the journey together and that is the key to victory,” said PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna, the main architect of the coalition.

The progressive liberal-left Spring party, created just four months ago by Robert Biedron, an openly gay former MP and mayor, scored a third-spot finish.

“We got it, we are the third political force in the country,” Biedron told supporters as exit polls suggested his party would hold three seats in the European Parliament.

Poland’s far-right scored less than expected and will now only hold three seats in the European Parliament, one less than in 2014.

Turnout tallied at 43 percent, almost double the 2014 result where only 23.83 percent of voters cast ballots.

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