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Poles Cast Ballots in Presidential Runoff

Voting is underway in Poland for the second and final round of the presidential elections to decide who will guide the new European Union member through crucial decisions, including how long to keep Polish troops in Iraq and the adoption of the euro currency. The campaign fight between liberal lawmaker Donald Tusk and conservative Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczynski, has overshadowed the issues.

As voting began, some opinion polls suggested that liberal candidate Donald Tusk of the pro-business Civic Platform is the favorite to win Sunday's ballot. His rival is conservative Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski of the Law and Justice Party who also came in second during the first round of voting two weeks ago.

Their parties ousted the former ruling communists from power during last month's parliamentary ballot and are trying to form a government. Domestic issues played an important role during the election campaign.

The candidates agree on adopting the euro currency by 2009 and improving the business climate. But they have had a heated debate on how far Poland should go in giving up welfare state protections in favor of an American-style economic model with fewer social benefits, but faster growth and job creation.

Mr. Tusk wants a 15 percent flat tax rate on personal and corporate earnings. Mr. Kaczynski favors a greater role for the state in protecting the social safety net and promoting Roman Catholic values.

But overshadowing the issues has been what Polish media described as a "dirty campaign." At one point the team of Mr. Kaszynski leaked information alleging that the father of presidential favorite Mr. Tusk served in the German army during World War II.

Mr. Kaczynski sacked his campaign manager and later apologized.

But political commentator Oskar Chomicki of the Europe Foundation says the allegations did not hurt Donald Tusk.

"The kind of policy that Mr. Tusk is presenting in his approach is more conciliatory, more peaceful and perhaps that is more appealing to a large portion of he electorate," he said.

There has also been concern among critics that under Mr. Kaczynski, a devout Catholic, access to abortion will be further restricted, explains Catholic media commentator Halina Bortnowska.

"To make it clear I am not pro-abortion. I believe that the laws must be rather strict. At the same time we must recognize facts and not to put people in an impossible position where everything is illegal, but still done at a greater price," he said.

The winner will also have to focus on foreign policies, including an upcoming discussion on whether to pull Polish troops out of Iraq by early next year.

Both candidates have said little about the subject. The silence between the two candidates is understandable say analysts, as Poland's deployment of about 1,500 troops is deeply unpopular in the country.

First official results are expected as early as Monday.