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Poles Vote for President amid Political Tensions

  • Stefan Bos

Polish people are voting for a president who will oversee the country's ambitious plan to adopt the Euro as its official currency by as early 2009. Surveys show that the election may fail to produce a clear winner between the two front runners who will likely face each other in a run-off round in two weeks.

Two presidential contenders, Lech Kaczynski of the anti-corruption Law and Justice Party and Donald Tusk of the pro-business, Civic Platform Party, are favorites among 13 candidates for head of state.

Opinion polls have warned the two will likely face each other in a second-round of voting on October 23 as neither candidate is expected to receive more than 50 percent support needed to win outright.

The two main presidential contenders are divided over domestic issues, including methods of improving public security, the strapped health service and low pensions.

But both have revealed they share the same views for a sterner policy toward Moscow and a ban on gay marriages, a sensitive issue in this mainly Catholic nation. The candidates say they guarantee gay people what they describe as equal civic and legal rights, but oppose gay marriage.

Mr. Kaczynski, who is also the mayor of Warsaw, provoked criticism earlier this year by refusing permission for a gay parade in the Polish capital, which was held anyway and ended in a clash with the march's opponents. Some 29 people were detained by police.

The presidential elections are held while Mr. Kaczynski's Law and Justice Party and the Civic Platform Party of his rival Mr. Tusk talk about forming a coalition government following last month's parliamentary elections.

The Law and Justice Party, which won the parliamentary ballot, has managed to increase the ratings of its presidential candidate Lech Kaczynski. His twin brother Jaroslaw even offered not to become prime minister to turn the odds even further in favor of Lech.

Robert Strybel, a Warsaw-based commentator of American Polish media, believes it would be unwise for Law and Justice also known as 'PiS' to provide both the prime minister and president.

"I do not think it would be good to have a PiS president and a PiS government. So I think Tusk could probably be a better choice [for president]. Mr. Tusk is more reserved, more subdued, more restraint and I think in a president that is good," he said.

Analysts say the winner will not continue the policies of Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former Communist they accuse of having close ties with Moscow, which ruled Poland as a Soviet satellite for decades.

Independent political analyst Andrzej Krajewski told Polish radio that they will likely continue the policies of Poland's first post Communist president Lech Walesa, who was the founder of the anti-Communist trade union movement Solidarity.

"Anyone of them will be new kind of president or a continuation of tradition in the sense of Lech Walesa. Because it will be a Solidarity presidency," he said. "Both of them are Solidarity people, both of them people are people of a new Poland after [the democratic changes] of 1989."

While a president has less power than the prime minister, he is the head of the army and can veto laws. Both Mr. Kaczynski and Mr. Tusk have made it clear they want their country to focus on Western policies, including the adoption of the Euro currency in 2009.

But commentators have warned a close race will lead to political instability in the largest economy among the 10 EU newcomers.

In a first sign of possible troubles, the Civic Platform and Law and Justice parties already deferred talks on the makeup of a cabinet and their economic program until after this weekend's election because of differences over tax cuts and state asset sales.

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