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Poland to Hold Early Elections After Corruption Scandals

Poland's parliament has voted to hold early elections following high level corruption allegations. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest that more political turbulence is expected ahead of the October 21 vote, as the Polish opposition and ruling conservatives prepare for a bitter election campaign.

Polish politicians applauded when a motion to hold early elections passed with a huge majority. Only 54 parliamentarians in the 460-seat chamber voted against new elections.

President Lech Kaczynski set the vote for October 21, two years ahead of schedule.

The president's twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said the election would give voters a fresh chance to embrace what he called "his party's struggle" against corruption, which has plagued Poland since the fall of communism in 1989.

Critics however say that corruption is to blame for the collapse of the prime minister's right-leaning coalition last month.

The troubles began after Prime Minister Kaczynski's conservative Law and Justice party narrowly won the 2005 parliamentary elections. The party formed a coalition with the right-wing League of Polish Families and the agrarian Self-Defense party, which are both critical of the European Union.

Soon, corruption allegations emerged involving the leader of Self-Defense, Andrzej Lepper, who was agriculture minister and deputy prime minister. That scandal eventually led to the call for early elections.

There have also been accusations from a former interior minister, fired last month, that the government has abused the secret services to spy on politicians and journalists.

Yet, Prime Minister Kaczynski has managed to protect key ministers.

By doing so, he has prevented the opposition from removing the ministers by using a parliamentary vote.

But the Polish opposition warns it will wage a tough election campaign. The largest opposition party, the Civic Platform, has already posted billboards that say that when the ruling Law and Justice party is in power, "all Poles are ashamed."

Speaking through an interpreter on the Polish Radio External Service, Civic Platform parliamentarian Bogdan Zdrojewski defended his party's harsh campaign ads.

"Our slogans are indeed harsh. But it is also because our emotions are running high," said Zdrojewski. "These two years have been wasted, and it is the government, not the opposition, who is responsible for this. Many times we tried to be constructive, but nothing ever came out of it. But what is important, there is no doubt there are two major players right now on the Polish political scene, the Law and Justice and Civic Platform parties."

Despite the scandals, opinion polls indicate that, with 30 percent support, the Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski is currently ahead of the Civic Platform.

That has led to nervousness among some investors, who hoped that the pro-business Civic Platform would be able to form a more market-friendly government for Poland, central Europe's biggest economy.

The elections will be closely watched by the international community, in part because Poland is a key U.S. ally and, with over 38 million people, the largest country among new member states of the European Union.