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Poland Expecting Close Run-Off Vote

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Poland's two presidential frontrunners are going head-to-head Sunday in a second-round run-off vote that may decide Poland's political future.

Sunday, Polish voters are choosing their new president from between two candidates. One is the Speaker of Parliament and Acting President Bronislaw Komorowski, from the governing center-right Civic Platform party. The other is Jaroslaw Kaczynski from the far-right Law and Justice party.  Neither candidate was able to win an outright majority in the first round of voting June 20th.

Kaczynski is running in the place of his twin brother, the late President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed in April along with his wife Maria and 94 others in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia. The crash moved the presidential election forward nearly four months.

Before the first round of voting, opinion polls had placed Komorowksi firmly in the lead. But the results were closer than predicted, with only a five percent difference between the two men.  

Grzegorz Makowski of the Warsaw-based Institute of Public Affairs explains this surge of support for Kaczynski, saying he thinks the plane crash at Smolensk mobilized more conservative voters. If the crash had not happened, he says, Komorowski would almost certainly have won in the first round.

"I am 99 percent sure that if it didn't happen, probably Lech Kaczynski would lose these elections in the first round," said Makowski.  "I think it had a really strong impact on those who were passive. Maybe not on those who were against Kaczynski, it didn't change their opinions. But it made those who were passive, and those who were potentially supporters of Kaczynski, active. Because of Smolensk, they started thinking that maybe we should be more conservative."

Kaczynski has run an effective advertising campaign, and may well have gained ground over the last two weeks.

At the moment, Komorowski's Civic Platform party controls parliament. Makowski says Kaczynski has played on his status as opposition leader by arguing that it could be dangerous for the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) to control both the Parliament and the Presidency.

"This is a very populist argument, but it works. People in Poland have very emotional attitudes to politics, and when he is saying something like that people think, 'oh, we will have something like a totalitarian regime if the president is also from Platforma,'" Makowski.

Makowski adds that the summer holiday season may also affect the vote, since wealthier Poles tend to support Komorowski and many will be leaving for vacation over the weekend.

At this point, most analysts agree that the race is too close to call. Final results are expected to be announced on Monday.

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