Opposition edges ahead before Polish poll

Other News Materials 21 October 2007 06:43

(Guardian) Poles vote tomorrow in an early general election that will decide whether the robust nationalism of the prickly twin brothers, prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and president Lech Kaczynski, is given another four years in power.

The prime minister has called the election two years early following the collapse of his coalition with two small extremist parties. While the opinion polls have varied wildly in their predictions for tomorrow's ballot, the main liberal opposition, the Civic Platform, has been edging ahead since last week when its leader, Donald Tusk, was judged to have trounced the prime minister in a televised debate.

Yesterday the Kaczynskis sought to mobilise support by claiming a big victory at the European summit in Lisbon, which made concessions to Polish complaints about voting power in the EU.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power two years ago, although the prime minister took office only 15 months ago. His campaign is based on conservative nationalism, battling corruption, and law and order.

His opponents accuse him of isolating Poland in the EU, picking fights with Germany, worsening friction with Russia, and abusing secret police files and intelligence information to harass opponents.

Mr Kaczynski is gambling that he can extend his support in the country. His party took 27% two years ago and he can expect to improve on that. But the close contest with Civic Platform means neither side will obtain a majority in the 460-seat Sejm, or lower house, and both will struggle to form a governing majority.

The opinion polls may be misleading, since Poles are reluctant voters. Only 40% voted in 2005, meaning that Mr Kaczynski's "revolution" is mandated by little more than one in 10 Polish voters.

But the conservative Kaczynski constituency is more likely to turn out to vote, while many of the young and educated who would vote for the liberal opposition have emigrated in the past three years.

Switzerland also votes tomorrow in a general election likely to entrench the rightwing, anti-foreigner Swiss People's party as the leading political force. Led by the billionaire industrialist and outgoing justice minister, Christoph Blocher, the party has run an effective and controversial campaign calling for the expulsion of immigrants convicted of crimes.