Polish right looks set for victory in national election; ouster expected for ex-communists
September 24, 2005
WARSAW, Poland – Two parties – one pro-business, the other anti-corruption – were favored to oust Poland’s ruling ex-communists in a general election Sunday that could determine how quickly the U.S. ally adopts the euro.Also, two brothers – identical twins – are competing on the political stage, one leading the Law and Justice party poised for a good result Sunday, the other a leading candidate in presidential elections Oct. 9.When Poland entered the European Union last year as the bloc’s largest country, it agreed eventually to replace the zloty with the EU common currency. To do that, it must have a budget deficit below 3 percent of gross domestic product.Both the Civic Platform party and the socially conservative Law and Justice support adopting the euro, though the pro-market Civic Platform more urgently. Polls show the two will be the major vote-getters, together winning more than 60 percent and allowing them to rule in a coalition.Polls also predicted such low support for the governing Democratic Left Alliance that it was not even certain of clearing the 5-percent threshold to enter parliament.The ex-communist alliance came to power in 2001 and shepherded the country into the European Union. But its popularity has plummeted amid a string of scandals and failure to tackle unemployment of 17.8 percent, the highest in the EU.The top challengers have been running neck-and-neck in the contest for the 460-seat lower house of parliament, or Sejm, and the 100-seat Senate – Poland’s fifth free parliamentary election since the end of communist rule in 1989.Civic Platform campaigned on reducing state bureaucracy and instituting a 15 percent flat income tax. Law and Justice is determined to preserve many welfare-state protections and says the flat tax would only help the rich.One Law and Justice TV ad shows food disappearing from a refrigerator to illustrate the potential blow to poor families. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has called the tax plans “a joke.”But Jan Rokita, Civic Platform’s candidate for prime minister, argues that only pro-market reforms can boost business and generate wealth in a country where the average salary is $775 a month.Regardless of who wins, the next government will have to prepare Poland for the euro, meaning painful spending cuts to trim its budget deficit to the required level.If the outcome is close, the choice of prime minister could be complicated by the fact that Poland also holds presidential elections Oct. 9, with a likely runoff vote two weeks later.Law and Justice leader Kaczynski’s identical twin brother, Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, is one of two leading presidential candidates. The other is Civic Platform’s Donald Tusk.Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said that if his brother wins, he would renounce the premiership to spare Poland the confusion of two major leaders who look alike.Just over 30 million of Poland’s 38 million citizens are eligible to vote Sunday, with some 80,000 expected to cast ballots overseas, where unofficial estimates say about 2.5 million Polish voters live.Poland – a strong U.S. ally in the war on terror – also will have four polling stations in Iraq and one at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan for its forces there.