Poland goes to polls in elections seen as referendum on conservative rule

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, photo: CTK

For the seventh time since the collapse of communism in 1989, Poles are electing a new parliament. The vote comes two years ahead of schedule and as two years ago the electorate seems to be split between supporters of the ruling conservative Law and Justice and the liberal, more pro-European Civic Platform. Over to Michal Kubicki of Polish Radio's External Service.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, photo: CTK
Indeed, this election is seen by most Poles as a referendum on two years of rule by the conservatives. In the first weeks of the campaign, they appeared to be very successful in presenting themselves as the only force genuinely committed to fighting corruption. And Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski strengthened his image of a man who, as Mariusz Ziomecki of Superstacja TV says, likes the Poles as they are.

'He likes the Polish nation as it is, he likes the Poles as they are, with all our quirks and unruly way of doing things. The things that to others may seem shallow or problematic to Kaczynski are the core of Polish identity and many voters sense it and like it, while the group that advocates accelerated reform and so-called modernization tends to be critical of the Polish soul.'

In the final stage of the campaign, however, the opposition gained momentum. Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk emerged the victor in his TV debates, against both prime minister Kaczynski and the ex-communist president Aleksander Kwasniewski, now the main face for the LiD coalition, a mixture of his colleagues from the communist camp and left-leaning Solidarity activists. On both occasions, Tusk was better prepared and more comfortable. According to Marek Magierowski of Rzeczpospolita daily Tusk's visit to Polish communities in Ireland proved a turning point in his campaign.

'Law and Justice had been focusing on the fight against corruption since the beginning of the campaign and the Civic Platform couldn't find that one element they could build their support in the society and I think they have found if - talking about the second Ireland and another miracle in Europe, trying to convince Poles that they also deserve an economic miracle. That was a breakthrough moment for the Civic Platform.'

If Kaczynski loses this election, he will continue to be one of the key players on Poland's political scene. As an opposition leader he will have the backing of his brother - the president. For Tusk, however, this election is 'to be or not to be in politics'. Marcin Sobczyk, Warsaw Bureau chief of Interfax Central Europe.

'Tusk is fighting for life. If he loses this election he will most probably lose his presidential chances for 2010. The presidential bid is his biggest dream. In 2005 he lost to Lech Kaczynski by only several hundred thousand votes and everything he's doing now is aimed at the presidential campaign in 2010. If he loses now it will mean he's lost his third election battle in a row and effectively we are going to see the end of Donald Tusk as an important figure.'

One thing is certain, building a government coalition will not be an easy task. Of the two main rivals, the Civic Platform has no doubt more potential partners.