Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

FOCUS

Video: Far right at the gates of power in Austria

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

FRANCE 24 turns 10: A look behind the scenes

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

Gambia's Yahya Jammeh concedes defeat in presidential polls

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Gambians herald 'new independence' after Jammeh defeat

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Hollande, the One Term President (part 1)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Trump Keeps 'Em Guessing, Italian Referendum, Austrian Election, Castro's Death (part 2)

Read more

FASHION

Discovering the winter 2016/2017 men's fashion collections in Paris

Read more

ENCORE!

Rendez-vous on '42nd Street' as the meta musical comes to Paris

Read more

REPORTERS

Uzbekistan reinforces its tight grip on election and country

Read more

FOCUS

Our Focus programme brings you exclusive reports from around the world. From Monday to Friday at 7.45 am Paris time.

Latest update : 2010-06-22

Poles go to the polls

Poland is going to the polls to elect a new president. The snap election was triggered by the tragic death of Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash that killed 96 people in April. His twin brother, Jaroslaw, is running, but with a reputation as deeply conservative and eurosceptic, can he inherit his brother's mantle?

Poland’s presidential election is taking place in exceptional circumstances. Originally scheduled for the autumn, it was brought forward to this Sunday after President Lech Kaczynski died in a plane crash on 10 April, alongside 95 others - many of them prominent figures in Polish society.

As speaker of parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, already the governing Civic Platform party’s candidate to challenge Lech Kaczynski, became acting president after the crash. A difficult position to manage – especially after Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw declared he would run in place of Lech.

Many feared Jaroslaw would not be psychologically prepared: “If he were elected, would he then sleep in the same bed as his dead brother did, eat with the same cutlery? It’s a sick idea!” commented Joanna Kowalska, a teacher. But sympathy for the family certainly helped Jaroslaw’s poll ratings. In the small town of Rawa Mazowiecka, many of those attending a Kaczynski rally cited respect for Lech’s memory as their main reason for voting for Jaroslaw.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski is seen as a peculiar man. A bachelor, he has lived almost his entire life with his mother and cat in a small house in north Warsaw. But he is anything but a new kid on the political block. Co-founder of the conservative Law and Justice party, he was prime minister in 2006 and 2007 and subsequently leader of the opposition (the liberal Civic Platform party won parliamentary elections in 2007, leaving president and parliament in opposition to one another). Widely seen as the power behind the throne of his brother’s presidency, he was even less popular than Lech, whose own poll ratings had sunk below 20 percent before his death.

But beyond the initial wave of sympathy, the campaign Kaczynski has fought has seen his ratings climb steadily. Once known as a bad-tempered, xenophobic firebrand, Jaroslaw Kaczynski has presented a radically new image. He started with a special message of friendship to the Russians and continued with appeals for consensus and dialogue among Poles, and a concerted effort to woo young voters.

Radoslaw Markowski of the Polish Academy of Sciences says Kaczynski is counting on his core electorate to stay with him, and seeking to win over more liberal-minded Poles. “He knows that in a presidential campaign, he needs 50% plus one, and the 20-30% of the vote which he was usually in the running for in parliamentary elections is not enough.”

Kaczynski, though, says the tragedy changed him as a person, without changing his political beliefs. His new style reflects a genuine mood in the country, and one that his rival Komorowski has also picked up on. Komorowski made “consensus” the buzzword of his campaign – sensing that a country reeling from the plane crash and two waves of devastating floods wants to feel united. Watching a TV debate where confrontation was conspicuous by its absence, Grzegorz Zelazowski, a baker, commented that “this is simply the way the campaign had to be in the present circumstances”.

As acting president of a country in mourning, Komorowski has steered clear of fighting an offensive campaign. But fear of a Kaczynski comeback means he remains the favourite, almost by default.

There is a certain symmetry between Kaczynski’s effort to woo liberals and the Civic Platform’s choice of Komorowski as a candidate. Komorowski appeals to more conservative voters and is less committed to free-market economics than others in his party. A sign perhaps, that at just 21 years old, Polish democracy already resembles that seen in “mature” Western countries, where two parties dominate and converge on the centre-ground…for better or for worse.

By Gulliver CRAGG

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2016-12-02 Europe

Video: Far right at the gates of power in Austria

Austria's far-right candidate Norbert Hofer gets another shot at becoming president in a second-round vote on Sunday after a May election was annulled by the constitutional court...

Read more

2016-12-01 Middle East

Iraq: Embedded with Shiite militias fighting to retake town of Tal Afar

Our reporters in Iraq have been following Shiite militias who are fighting alongside the regular army. Their current mission is to retake the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul,...

Read more

2016-11-30 France

Suspects under house arrest in France protest their innocence

France’s state of emergency imposed in the wake of last November’s terror attacks is still in place today. The measure gives police and state officials special powers to take...

Read more

2016-11-29 Europe

What is the secret behind Germany's baby boom?

For almost ten years, Germany has been trying to boost its low birth rate by implementing one of the world's most expensive family policies. These measures are beginning to show...

Read more

2016-11-28 Europe

Video: Detention centres for migrants slammed as 'Spanish Guantanamos'

In this edition we’re reporting on detention centres in Spain, where illegal immigrants are held while the authorities try to organise their deportation. Critics are calling the...

Read more