Exit polls show Polish voters ousting government plagued by scandal, high unemployment
Associated PressWARSAW, Poland – Exit polls showed Polish voters ousted the nation’s scandal-prone government of ex-communists in parliamentary elections Sunday, giving a broad majority to two center-right parties that have promised tax cuts and clean government.Prime Minister Marek Belka’s defeated government had said it would withdraw Poland’s troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, though it might keep some officers there as advisers. The challengers said they might be open to keeping them there longer if a “new contract” can be negotiated with the United States.Projections based on exit polls by state television showed the socially conservative Law and Justice Party with 27.8 percent and the free-market Civic Platform with 24.1 percent. The governing Democratic Left Alliance, which has been plagued by Europe’s highest unemployment rate and scandals, lagged behind with 11.2 percent.An exit poll for private TVN-24 showed similar results, with Law and Justice polling 28.3 percent, Civic Platform 26.3 percent and the Democratic Left Alliance 11.1 percent.The results showed voters eager for change in choosing the two right-wing parties, both of which have roots in the Solidarity trade union movement that toppled communism in 1989-90. However, the turnout of 40 percent was the lowest since then.But as voters in Germany did a week ago, they sought to put the brakes on all-out cuts to welfare state benefits, giving first place to Law and Justice – a party that mingles free-market economics with concern for social equality and government programs.After the release of the exit polls, Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said he had a mandate to become prime minister, citing a deal with Civic Platform.”The agreement was that whoever wins the election has the prime minister post, and then this applies to me as the head of the winning party,” Kaczynski said.State TV projections showed the two parties winning 305 seats in the 460-seat lower house, easily a majority but short of the two-thirds they would need to alter the constitution.Before the election, Civic Platform leaders said a new government would only consider extending Poland’s deployment in Iraq if it was offered a new “contract” with the United States. Otherwise, Polish troops will begin packing up after the current deployment ends Dec. 31.Poland leads a multinational force of 4,000 in Iraq, with 1,500 of those troops coming from Poland.Since Warsaw sent ground troops to the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003, frustration has grown over unfulfilled expectations. Even though Washington never made concrete promises, Poles hoped their sacrifices would gain them visa-free travel to the United States, lucrative contracts in reconstructing Iraq and more U.S. investment for Poland’s economy and science.The topic, however, has been largely absent from the campaign, which has focused largely on domestic issues.The ruling party has seen some successes – including strong economic growth early on and last year’s entry into the European Union.But stubbornly high unemployment – now at 17.8 percent – and a series of scandals have undermined the party’s standing.Pawel Golebiewski in Warsaw said he voted for Law and Justice because of the party’s promise to battle crime and corruption.”Four years ago, I voted for the Democratic Left Alliance, but I regret it now,” the 27-year-old state office clerk said. “What they showed in those four years in office deserves punishment, all those dishonest deals that they carried out.”Sunday’s election is the fifth fully free vote since Poland’s transition from communism to multiparty democracy in 1989.No government since then has been re-elected, and power has swung between reformed communists and parties rooted in the anti-communist Solidarity movement.”We have won, everything shows we have won,” Kaczynski said. “We have won as a party and what’s more important we have won as a program, as a certain idea for Poland, and this should turn out to be decisive.”Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk conceded that Law and Justice earned more votes than his party, a market-oriented group favoring a 15-percent flat tax on incomes, value-added tax and corporations.”I want to say to the competition at Law and Justice – we congratulate you. You won the election,” Tusk told supporters at party headquarters.Poland also will hold presidential elections Oct. 9, with a likely runoff vote two weeks later.Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, the identical twin brother of the Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is one of two leading candidates in that race. The other is Tusk.Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said that, if his brother wins, he would renounce the premiership in order to spare Poland the confusion of two leaders who look alike.Vail, Colorado
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