(Bloomberg) -- Polish opposition supporters jammed the streets of Warsaw two weeks before an election pitting pro-European parties against the ruling nationalists who are making a bid for a third term in office.
Protesters supporting Donald Tusk’s Civic Coalition, many carrying the country’s red-and-white flags or the European Union’s blue-and-gold emblems, swelled into the Polish capital on Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to boost momentum and narrow the gap with the Law & Justice party.
“When I see these hundreds of thousands of smiling faces, I feel that the turning point in the history of our nation is again approaching,” Tusk, a former Polish premier and European Council president, told the gathering. Municipal authorities said about a million people took part in the march, while the police estimated turnout at 100,000.
Tusk’s faction faces a difficult path to power. It’s trailed in opinion surveys throughout the campaign, during which Law & Justice has decried migration and attacked Tusk as a pawn of neighboring Germany.
Saturday’s election in Slovakia showed the current difficulties faced by pro-European parties, as former Prime Minister Robert Fico secured a victory after pledging to oppose sanctions against Russia and military aid to Ukraine.
The Polish opposition leader vowed to mend relations with the EU, which is withholding billions of euros in funding over rule-of-law concerns, and promised to loosen strict abortion laws. Others went on the attack, accusing Law & Justice of graft, fomenting inflation, and undermining democratic standards.
A large demonstration in early June drew hundreds of thousands to Warsaw’s streets, briefly giving Tusk’s party a bump in the polls. But that momentum quickly faded. A Sept. 26 Ipsos survey had the party down by seven percentage points.
Still, polls have shown that the ruling party may fall well short of a majority. Confederation, an alliance of anti-EU far-right elements that’s called for a radically smaller government, is a potential partner.
Premier Mateusz Morawiecki told a ruling-party gathering in Katowice on Sunday that Tusk’s return to power would mean painful cuts to social spending. Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said the opposition leader succeeded in “subordinating” Poland to the whims of Germany and Russia when his party was in power during 2008 to 2016.
Tusk’s most likely path to forming a government would require a coalition with two other forces, the Third Way and the Left, though any bigger surge for the Civic Platform in the past has largely come at the expense of the others.
Aneta Kowalczyk, a school teacher from Silesia, the industrial heartland in southern Poland, came to Warsaw by bus overnight to take part in the rally.
“I’m sick of the corruption and lies we’re being fed everyday,” she said. “This is our chance to make Poland normal again.”
(Updates with social media post from the opposition party)
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