September 25, 2005

Poland votes, center-right tipped for landslide win

By Wojciech Zurawski

KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) - Poland voted on Sunday in
parliamentary elections expected to push the European Union's
biggest new member to the right and speed the pace of economic
reform, stalled under the outgoing leftist government.

In the 16 years since the fall of communism, no Polish
government has won re-election and opinion polls indicate
Sunday's election -- the first since Poland joined the EU --
will continue that pattern.

Surveys suggested voters would punish the ex-communist
Democratic Left Alliance for corruption scandals and high
unemployment during their four years in power, and support two
center-right parties rooted in the pro-democracy Solidarity

"These are very important elections because they mark the
end of the post-communist era," said Jan Rokita, the
pro-business Civic Platform's candidate for prime minister.

"Poland needs a new government without delay to tackle the
main problems: restoring public morality and winning the war on
unemployment," he said in his native Krakow, in southern
Poland, after casting his ballot.

About 30 million people were eligible to vote in the nation
of 38 million. Polls close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) with exit polls
due shortly afterwards and the first partial results around
midnight (2200 GMT).

Five main parties fielded candidates in the election but
surveys point to the Civic Platform and Law and Justice parties
winning about 60 percent.

The two parties plan to rule together but have fought
bitterly to clinch the lead role in the next coalition.


Financial markets believe a coalition led by the Civic
Platform would more aggressively tackle Poland's pressing
economic problems of unemployment, at 18 percent the highest in
the EU, bloated budgets and costly social security.

The center-right parties are divided over how far to go in
embracing the free market and how much welfare the former
communist nation -- where wealth levels are just half of the EU
average -- can afford.

The Civic Platform, favored by most business leaders and
financial markets, promises a 15 percent flat tax rate and
wants to move faster with deregulation, privatization and
budget cuts needed for swift adoption of the euro.

The Law and Justice conservatives, led by twin brothers
Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski, combine a tough line on crime and
corruption as well as pledges to uphold Christian values and
provide better welfare protection.

Final opinion polls suggested a neck-and-neck finish for
both parties, or the Law and Justice coming just ahead.

The center right has also dominated a parallel campaign for
a presidential election on October 9, with the Civic Platform's
Donald Tusk leading Lech Kaczynski.