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Poles pick new president in snap election

Video by Luke SHRAGO

Latest update : 2010-06-20

Poland voted for 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, trailed acting president Bronislaw Komorowski (right) in opinion polls.

AFP - Poles voted Sunday for a new head of state after president Lech Kaczynski perished in an air disaster, but his twin trailed the ruling party candidate in an audacious bid to take his brother's place.
  
Opinion polls have put parliamentary speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, 58, of the market-friendly Civic Platform ahead of ex-premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 61, leader of the eurosceptic conservative Law and Justice party.
  
Kaczynski cast his ballot in Warsaw accompanied by his late brother's daughter and two grandaughters.
  
"I hope turnout is going to be high," he told reporters. Elections since the 1989 fall of Poland's communist regime have rarely drawn more than half of voters.
  
"I hope it will rise and that our democracy will be reinforced," he added. Polls close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT).
  


Poland was plunged into national grief by the April 10 plane crash in western Russia that killed Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, including his wife Maria and top political and military figures. The government delegation was headed for a memorial ceremony for thousands of Polish officers killed by Soviet forces during World War II.
  
The snap election is crucial for the conservatives because, since losing a parliamentary election in 2007, they have relied on Kaczynski's presidential veto powers to hamper the liberal government's policies.
  
On the other hand, victory for Komorowski -- a close ally of Prime Minister Donald Tusk -- would end a policy logjam and boost Civic Platform before parliamentary elections in late 2011.
  
On top of the crash tragedy, the campaign has also been overshadowed by recent floods that killed 24 people and forced thousands from their homes.
  
Both candidates have appealed to the 38 million Poles for national unity.
  
Voters in Warsaw said that despite the tragic circumstances the election was like any other.
  
"I chose Bronislaw Komorowski because of his experience in parliament and because Mr. Kaczynski did not pass the test when he served as prime minister -- he already had his chance," Grazyna Rykowa, 50, told AFP.
  
Komorowski could garner 41 to 51 percent of the vote, with Kaczynski winning between 29 to 35 percent, surveys show. The other eight candidates lag far behind.
  
If no one scores over 50 percent, a run-off between the top two vote-getters will be held on July 4, with opinion polls giving Komorowski a comfortable win in that contest.
  
Under the constitution, parliamentary speaker Komorowski became acting president after the crash, but even before the accident he was preparing to challenge Lech Kaczynski's bid for a second five-year term in an autumn election, and was tipped to win.
  
"Komorowski's my candidate," said ex-policeman Robert Pedzich, 46.
  
"He's been good as acting president. I voted for Lech Kaczynski before, but was disappointed fast," he added, referring to the late president's 2005 election victory over current premier Tusk.
  
Despite shared roots in Solidarity, the opposition movement that peacefully drove out the communists, Civic Platform and Law and Justice are bitter rivals.
  
"They're similar as candidates really, both of them with roots in the anti-communist opposition, but I voted for Jaroslaw Kaczynski -- he's more inclined to social welfare," said 25-year-old Michal Luczak.
  
Retired veterinarian Lech Czarzewski, 64, also said he voted for Kaczynski.
  
"Jaroslaw is a guarantee of an independent policy vis-à-vis the EU and the others," he said. Poland joined the European Union in 2004.
  
Jaroslaw Kaczynski was premier in 2006-2007, a period marked by regular clashes between the twins and fellow EU leaders, plus bitter battles at home.
  
Civic Platform trounced Law and Justice in the 2007 general election.

Date created : 2010-06-20

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