Poland's centrists target new term in crunch ballot

Poles began voting on Sunday in a general election, with Prime Minister Donald Tusk aiming for a landmark second term and pushing a message of prudent economic stewardship which kept the nation out of recession.

Pro-European centrist Tusk, whose Civic Platform (PO) won a snap vote in 2007, has warned against a return of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party which clashed regularly with European Union allies when it was in power.

But pre-election surveys gave Tusk cause for concern, showing that despite a percentage point lead on PiS, PO could fall a hair’s breadth short of a majority.

Tusk says the nation of 38-million needs “cooperation, understanding and unity”.

“In these turbulent times Poland can’t afford any radical moves,” he insisted, before campaigning ended on Friday.

If PO keeps the helm, it would be a first for an incumbent party since the 1989 demise of Warsaw’s communist regime.

To marshal its electorate, PO’s last-minute broadcasts used footage of aggressive, supposed PiS supporters under the slogan “They are going to vote. And you?”

Eurozone aspirations
Poland, which joined the European Union in 2004 and currently holds the 27-nation bloc’s presidency, has weathered the global crisis well.

Its economy expanded 1.7% in 2009. While a shadow of previous years, it made Poland the only EU member to maintain growth.

The 2010 rate was 3.8%.
This year’s forecast is 4.0%, and 2012’s, 2.7%.

Poland is not in the eurozone—Tusk says it could by 2015 meet economic criteria for euro adoption, but has not set a target.

With Poland’s main trade partners in the debt-struck eurozone, jitters remain. Tusk pledges to keep cutting the budget deficit to offset risks.

PiS and the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) have focused on inflation, pensions and healthcare, saying ordinary Poles deserve better.

PiS ruled from 2005 to 2007, with Jaroslaw Kaczynski premier in 2006/07 until his coalition with the far-right and populists unravelled.

His record of falling out with governing allies means PiS would be unlikely to find coalition partners even if it leapfrogged PO, leaving the road open for Tusk, analysts say.

‘Poles are fed up’
Kaczynski was the identical twin of conservative president Lech Kaczynski, elected in 2005 and killed in a plane crash in Russia in April 2010. Tusk ally Bronislaw Komorowski beat Jaroslaw Kaczynski in snap presidential polls that July.

Having tempered his tone earlier in the campaign, Kaczynski returned to familiar ground this week, accusing Germany of seeking to subjugate Poland hand in hand with Russia—he was rebuked sharply by Tusk.

Melding domestic and foreign issues, Kaczynski also slammed the government, which has mended fences abroad since 2007.

“Poles are fed up with the arrogance towards the weak of those who bow to the powerful at home and abroad,” he said.

Pollsters TNS OBOP—accurate in past ballots—tip PO to take almost 40% of Sunday’s vote to PiS’s 29%.

But they gave PO 202 seats, down from 208 in the outgoing chamber, and said Tusk’s coalition ally the Polish People’s Party (PSL) could drop to 27 from 31.

With 229 seats in the 460-member Parliament, PO and PSL could count on an ethnic German minority party to hit a majority of 231, TNS OBOP said.

Wildcard
The wildcard is the new Palikot Movement of flamboyant former vodka tycoon and ex-PO member Janusz Palikot.

With a forecast 43 seats, it is seen as a potential coalition ally—though Tusk dismissed such talk.

It is unusual in deeply Catholic Poland for anti-clericalism and for backing gay partnerships and legalised marijuana.

TNS OBOP tipped PiS to obtain 149 seats, up from 146.

It said SLD—in power in 2001-2005—could fall to 37 from 43, while no other party would win seats.

Polling stations opened at 7am (5am GMT) and were to close at 9pm (7pm GMT).—AFP

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