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Poland’s centrist premier Tusk is strengthened by EU election win but populists are at his heels

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s centrist party clinched its first electoral victory over a right-wing populist party in a decade by taking the most votes in the European Parliament election, official results released Monday showed.

Many viewed Tusk’s return to power last year as a rare case of a democratic party prevailing over populist and authoritarian forces. However, while Sunday’s win solidified his position, the results also showed that his lead is small, and that support for the far right is rising.

His Civic Coalition took 37.1% of the votes. The nationalist Law and Justice party, which held power from 2015 until last year and is led by Jarosław Kaczyński, followed closely with 36.2%, underscoring the continued attraction of its conservative worldview to many Polish voters, despite corruption scandals during its years in power.

Two Law and Justice candidates — Former Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński and his former deputy, Maciej Wąsik — won seats in the latest election despite their previous conviction of abuse of power. They were briefly imprisoned earlier this year before being pardoned by President Andrzej Duda, who is aligned with the conservative party.

Meanwhile, Confederation, a far-right party with a vocal anti-Ukraine stance, had its best result ever, coming third with 12.1% — in line with an EU-wide surge of support for nationalist, anti-EU parties.

One of the Confederation candidates who won a seat is Grzegorz Braun, a controversial politician who extinguished candles on a menorah that were lit for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in the halls of the Polish parliament last December.

Tusk, who first served as prime minister from 2007-14 and then went on to hold a top EU leadership position, returned to power in Warsaw in December after a coalition of three parties collectively won a national election last fall. However, Law and Justice still won more votes than any other party in that election. Sunday marked the first time in many years that it did not win the most votes.

Tusk’s strong showing Sunday came at the expense of his two coalition partners, the Left and the more conservative Third Way, which had poor outcomes.

By VANESSA GERA
Associated Press

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