/ 22 October 2007

Opposition triumphs in Polish election

Poland’s liberal opposition party on Sunday night scored a stunning election victory over the populist nationalist Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and his twin-brother President, Lech, putting an abrupt end to their self-styled ”moral revolution” after only two years.

Two television exit polls gave the liberal conservative Civic Platform, led by Donald Tusk, a 13-point lead over Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s nationalist Law and Justice party, confirming that the prime minister had disastrously miscalculated in calling an early election only halfway through his four-year term.

Exit polls showed the Civic Platform won about 44,2% of the vote. Law and Justice had 31,3%.

Tusk’s defeat of the right-wing Law and Justice party was fortified by the 8% won by the Peasants’ party, Tusk’s preferred coalition partner, indicating that the two will be able to muster a parliamentary majority.

The prime minister conceded defeat on Sunday night. His brother, the president, does not face an election until 2010, but Tusk’s majority in the 460-seat Lower House, plus the votes of the third-placed alliance of former communists and social democrats, which took 13%, should be enough to override a presidential veto.

Sunday’s election, triggered by the collapse of Kaczynski’s right-wing coalition, was widely seen as the most crucial in the country’s teenage democracy. Voters seemed to sense that, turning out in their highest numbers since the anti-communist revolution of 1989 and the first free election in June that year. The turnout of 55% was 15% more than two years ago.

European leaders, in particular, will be delighted to see Jaroslaw Kaczynski run out of office, after his aggressive nationalism and the manufacture of enemies at home and abroad. He had repeatedly sought to pick fights with Germany and Russia over the past year and had isolated Poland as a troublemaker within the European Union.

Tusk leads a party that is liberal, open, internationalist and conservative, though also quarrelsome. He is both pro-European and pro-American. He has pledged, though, to work towards bringing Polish troops home from Iraq.

Washington may be unhappy to see Kaczynski go for other reasons. He had welcomed deploying United States interceptor rockets in Poland as part of the Pentagon’s missile-shield programme. While Tusk and his party are also in favour of missile defence in Poland, they will seek to drive a harder bargain with the US.

A Tusk-led coalition is promising to aim for an ”economic miracle”, harnessing the country’s buoyant economic growth to slash taxes and try to attract back many of the two million Poles who have emigrated since the country joined the EU in 2004 and the Kaczynskis took power in 2005.

Kaczynski has been prime minister for only 15 months, but in that period has energetically pursued robust policies using the courts, police and intelligence services to root out perceived corruption and target political opponents. He pledged to build a new republic, holding the democracy of the past 17 years in contempt and attempting to purge it of post-communist sleaze. — Guardian Unlimited Â