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Video by William EDWARDS


Latest update : 2010-06-20

Poland elects a new president on Sunday after the death of Lech Kaczynski in an April plane crash. Kaczynski's twin brother Jaroslaw (left), a former premier, trails acting president Bronislaw Komorowski (right) in polls.

AFP - Poland prepared Saturday for a snap election forced by the air-crash death of president Lech Kaczynski, with his identical twin bidding to replace him but trailing the ruling liberals' candidate.

Ex-prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, eurosceptic leader of the twins' Law and Justice party, is scrambling to maintain a conservative presidency and keep the brakes on the policies of the governing, pro-EU Civic Platform party.

But Civic Platform candidate Bronislaw Komorowski -- a key ally of Prime Minister Donald Tusk -- looks set to top Sunday's ballot in a field of 10, with Kaczynski in second place, according to opinion polls.

"The Polish boat is sailing in the right direction," Komorowski said before a campaign blackout came into force at midnight Friday.

Polling stations will be open from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm (0400 GMT to 1800 GMT) on Sunday.

Both Komorowski and Kaczynski held final rallies late Friday in Gdansk, the Baltic port which was the cradle of the Solidarity movement that drove Poland's communist regime from power peacefully in 1989.

Despite shared Solidarity roots, there is no love lost between Civic Platform and Law and Justice, locked in a power struggle since 2005.

Opinion surveys show Komorowski may fall short of the 50 percent of the vote needed to win outright on Sunday and avoid a July 4 run-off vote.

However, he would beat Kaczynski hands down in a second round, surveys show.

Victory would be a boon for Civic Platform, unlocking a political logjam more than a year before the autumn 2011 parliamentary elections.

Lech Kaczynski died on April 10 with 95 other Poles, including his wife Maria, senior aides, leading politicians and the country's military top brass.

Their government plane crashed in Smolensk, western Russia, as it landed for a memorial ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of a World War II Soviet massacre of thousands of Polish officers in the nearby Katyn forest

On the heels of the crash, Poland was last month battered by the worst floods in decades. Both events have overshadowed the presidential campaign as the candidates appeal for national unity.

On Thursday, Komorowski, 58, laid a wreathe on the tomb of Lech and Maria Kaczynski in the southern city of Krakow during a campaign visit.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski visited the tomb on Friday, marking his birthday for the first time without his twin brother. He turned 61.

Under the constitution, parliamentary speaker Komorowski became acting president after the Smolensk crash.

He had already been tapped to challenge Lech Kaczynski's bid for a second five-year term in an autumn vote, a contest polls showed he was set to win.

Lech Kaczynski pipped Tusk in a tough 2005 presidential race.

The Kaczynskis went on to form a unique political double act.

Jaroslaw was premier in 2006-2007, a period marked by regular clashes between the twins and fellow European Union leaders, plus bitter political sparring at home.

Civic Platform trounced Law and Justice in a snap general election in 2007 sparked by the collapse of the latter's coalition with the far right and populists.

Forced since 2007 to work with arch-rival Tusk, Lech Kaczynski did his level best to block laws using presidential veto powers.

With an eye on Law and Justice's core voters -- who tend to be older, small-town dwellers, in contrast with younger, urban Civic Platform supporters --  he was wary of Tusk's drive to reform the welfare system and step up privatisation of state companies.

In their campaign, Komorowski and Jaroslaw Kaczynski have jousted in the courts over welfare, amid accusations that the latter lied over alleged liberal plans to privatise healthcare.

The Kaczynskis have also been deeply sceptical of Tusk's plan to adopt the euro by 2015.

Tusk, whose market-friendly government underscores that Poland has bucked the global economic slump on its watch, has mended fences with EU allies since 2007.

Date created : 2010-06-19


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