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WARSAW: Poland’s liberal opposition party is leading the race on the eve of parliamentary elections, in a contest that has boiled down to a stark choice for or against the ruling conservative Kaczynski twins.

Opinion polls published on Friday showed that the Civic Platform (PO), led by Donald Tusk, was comfortably ahead of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party of President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

PO had lead of 8-17 percentage points on PiS in a string of polls, with forecast scores ranging from 34 to 47 per cent of Sunday’s ballot. The pro-European, economically liberal and socially conservative PO owes much of its current advantage to the Kaczynskis, who have polarised the country since coming to power in 2005.

Conservative, nationalist and Catholic supporters hail their social policy, uncompromising defence of Poland’s interests in European Union talks, and efforts to settle accounts with supporters of Poland’s defunct communist regime.

But opponents see them as stubborn eurosceptics, obsessed with sniffing out ex-communists and corruption, who have done little to boost Poland’s already flourishing economy.

“There is a clear division between the Kaczynskis’ supporters and the others,” said analyst Pawel Ciacek of the SMJ/KRC polling institute.

“This is a kind of referendum on whether we want the Kaczynskis or we don’t want the Kaczynskis,” he told AFP.

Political consultant Eryk Mistewicz compared the Polish campaign with France’s presidential race earlier this year, where left-winger Segolene Royal tried to play on antipathy towards the right’s Nicolas Sarkozy, who was the ultimate winner.

Tusk has “followed the same strategy as Segolene Royal. In France, it was ‘Anything but Sarkozy’, and here it’s ‘Anything but Kaczynski,’” said Mistewicz.

The turning point for Tusk came last week, when he produced an unexpectedly punchy display in a televised debate with Jaroslaw Kaczynski — unlike Royal against Sarkozy.

Kaczynski is known for his hardball style and man-of-the-people image, but appeared ill-prepared and out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Poles. The elections were called two years early to try to resolve a crisis caused by the collapse of PiS’ ruling coalition.

An absolute parliamentary majority is the holy grail of Polish politics. The target of at least half of the 460 seats in parliament has proven unattainable in the five free elections since the demise of the country’s communist regime in 1989.

That has led to often unhappy coalition governments with limited shelf-life. PO, however, may be able to buck the trend.

After several polls during the week gave it around 230 seats, a survey published on Friday suggested it would win a thumping 250.

Even if PO slips up — another poll forecast it would emerge as the largest party but would only obtain 185 seats — it could still govern with the rural Polish Peasant’s Party (PSL), with which it already runs several local authorities.

The liberals may also be forced to turn to the Left and Democrats (LiD), an alliance steered by ex-communists, despite the reticence of some in PO’s conservative wing.

Despite its opinion poll lead, PO is likely to be jittery, given that PiS managed to pull ahead in the final days of the 2005 campaign thanks to a hard-hitting anti-corruption campaign. However, no recent polls have suggested PiS could win this time, let alone obtain a majority.

It is questionable whether the party could form a coalition even if it pips PO, particularly if Jaroslaw Kaczynski seeks to remain at the helm.

His former allies from the far-right League of Polish Families (LPR) and the populist Self-Defence (Samoobrona) movement are expected to lose their seats.—AFP