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Poland Gears Up for Early Presidential Elections


Poland is preparing to elect a new president on Sunday, with a center-right and far-right candidates in the lead. The election is being held earlier than originally scheduled, following the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash. The crash is still casting its shadow over Polish politics.

Sunday, Polish voters cast their ballots, electing their next president nearly four months earlier than originally planned. The election date was moved up after Poland's president, Lech Kaczynski, was killed along with 95 others in a plane crash on April 10th near the Russian town, Smolensk.

There are two front-runners. One is Bronislaw Komorowski, from the governing center-right Civic Platform party. The other is Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of the late president, who is running for the far-right Law and Justice Party.

Jacek Kucharczyk, of the Warsaw-based Institute of Public Affairs, says the crash at Smolensk did more than just change the date of the election. He says it could also affect its outcome.

"Before April 10, most people thought that Lech Kaczynski was not electable for a second term," noted Kucharczyk. "Most people thought that Civic Platform would recapture the presidency. The Smolensk air disaster changed a lot of that. Suddenly, it became almost impossible to criticize the legacy of the late president and this outburst of national emotions, after the disaster, changed the balance of power on the political scene."

Jaroslaw Kaczynski has been trying to convince voters that, as president, he would carry on his late brother's legacy. The strategy has had some success and, although he still trails Komorowski in opinion polls, one recent poll narrowed Komorowski's lead to as little as two points.

Both Kaczynski and his brother Lech have been known for their combative attitude toward Poland's historical enemies. But last month, Kaczynski surprised many people by delivering a conciliatory televised speech to Russia.

In the speech, he referred to his "Russian friends" and thanked the Russian people for their sympathy and support.

As political analyst Jacek Kucharczyk explains, this new approach represents a dramatic shift.

"If you look at the content of Lech Kaczynski's policies, it was basically this sense of threat to Poland coming both from external sources, from Russia, from Germany, from the European Union," noted Kucharczyk. "Obviously Kaczynski, if he wanted to increase his chances of success, had to play down all these ideas. He's trying to play a sort of moderate, right of the center candidate very much like Komorowksi."

Komorowski too has shied away from confrontational politics in his campaign.

As Komorowski told Polish television, he thinks that problems begin when politicians become more concerned about winning than about serving the state.

To win the election on Sunday, one of the candidates must secure at least 50 percent of the vote. Otherwise, the two top candidates will be facing each other again on July 4, in a runoff vote.

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