Poles unimpressed as presidential candidates sling mud at each other

Photo: CTK

Poland's two right-wing presidential candidates will square it off in a second round of elections in a week's time. The first round proved inconclusive with front runner liberal Donald Tusk gaining a slim lead over his rival conservative Lech Kaczynski. There is mounting concern that the final leg of the presidential contest may be brutal, with both candidates slinging mud at each other.

Donald Tusk,  photo: CTK
There was euphoria at the National Museum in Warsaw as several thousand supporters cheered front runner center - right free marketer historian Donald Tusk from the Civic Platform party.

Tusk's lead in the race for the Presidential palace was a marginal 3% over his principal rival Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski from the pro-catholic conservative right Law and Justice.

So once again Polish voters will have to cast their ballots on Oct. 23rd. Krysztof Bobinski from the Pro-European Unia & Polska foundation says that even though both candidates were spawn from Solidarity the Freedom Movement that helped topple communism in 1989, their visions for a better and more secure Poland are different.

'Donald Tusk is more open, more free market, more relaxed about the outside world, while Lech Kaczynski from Law and Justice is more nationalist, more suspicious of the outside world, more protectionist and is running a campaign where he's stressing a kind of social democratic features of an economic and social system.'

Poland 's first round in the Presidential election showed that rural Poland voted for conservative Kaczynski while urban Poland voted for liberal Tusk.

So what will the two candidates have to do to clinch the Polish Presidency?

Lech Kaczynski,  photo: CTK
The divisions in voter preference seem clear. But observers think that both candidates have to mobilize the public to go out and vote because last week's election showed that roughly 34% of Poland's 30 million eligible voting public decided to stay home.

'Lech Kaczynski has to mobilize even more populist votes from the people who have lost out on the economic reforms and who are afraid of the future. Those people usually don't vote. So, he has a job mobilizing them. On the other hand, Donald Tusk in effect has to reach for the paradoxically post-communist vote people who have been pushing reforms and who are afraid of the Kaczynski brothers of Law and Justice. He has to get them to vote for him.

'What's happened is because the former communists have been marginalized in this election, and there used to be an object of controversy on the right, the right now is no longer attacking the former communists, and the right has split into these two rather traditional forms which is the free marketers and the more Christian Democrat conservatives.'

Parliamentary elections last month showed a swing to the conservative right, as the Law and Justice party beat its main contender the Civic Platform by a mere 2%.

The two parties are expected to form a coalition government. Senior Civic Platform party member and Vice President of the EU Parliament Jacek Saryusz Wolski is confident that this will happen but only after the run off:

Photo: CTK
'Poland will have a state of government composed of two parties which have similar goals although they're not identical in their policy options. And this government will be able to modernize Poland more in terms of economic and to consolidate its international position.'

What about its relationship with the European Union and its transatlantic partner NATO? Will the relationship change in any way?

'Relations are good but this new coalition will probably try to put more vigor into transatlantic and European Union relationships.'

As far as the voting public is concerned many have already made up their minds and know who they will vote for.

'It's difficult to say now. They promise a lot always. We will see when he will be chosen. We don't want Kaczynski to be the president. We don't agree with him.'

'He doesn't like people who are gay. I think it's pretty old-style thinking. Nowadays we should tolerate them. And Kaczynski is absolutely against them.'

'Donald Tusk, we like him.'

'We like his program. We like low taxes. We like that he's for business.'

'Yes, for business oriented people, more secure and better.'

What happens if Lech Kaczynski wins?

'Maybe I'll run away from Poland because Kaczynski is a very aggressive politician.'

'I like Kaczynski. He's the man who has made the city most secure.'

What type of Poland do you want to see after all of this?

'Well, first of all Poland without corruption. Poland where maybe justice rules, not free market or something like that, definitely more organized with more preferences for the future.'

Both candidates say that they want to rid Poland of corruption in the halls of Parliament and business. But they both have different visions on public finance, social and health security and foreign policy.