Poles voted heavily on Sunday in a parliamentary election that could weaken the grip of the conservative Kaczynski twins and bring in a government ready to speed up economic reforms and improve relations with EU allies.
Turnout, at over 55 percent, was the highest since Poland voted to end communism in 1989. The high level of participation was expected to benefit the Civic Platform, a centre-right opposition party that had an opinion poll lead.
The electoral commission said ballot papers had run out in some areas and voting would have to be extended until 10.55 p.m. (2055 GMT). It had originally been due to end at 8 p.m. Exit polls are due after polling stations close.
Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski did not appear very optimistic as he voted.
"We have to accept the will of the voters, that's obvious. We won't get angry at the people and lessons from this campaign will be learned," he said.
Platform leader Donald Tusk, tipped to be the next prime minister if his party wins, sounded more upbeat.
"Of course I expect to win, but I also know perfectly well that it will not be easy and the battle goes on until the last minute," he said.
The election was called two years early in the European Union's biggest former communist country after the last coalition collapsed over a corruption inquiry. If no party wins outright, then coalition talks will be needed.
The Platform has plans to rebuild relations with EU allies that have suffered under the nationalist brothers. It also aims to pull Polish troops out of the U.S.-led force in Iraq.
Opinion polls have put the Platform between 4 and 17 points ahead of the ruling Law and Justice Party of the prime minister and his brother Lech, the president. The polls gave the opposition party up to 47 percent support.
If opposition parties win three fifths of the lower house of parliament's 460 seats they would be able to nullify the veto by the president, who does not face an election until 2010.
Low turnout in 2005 -- just 40 percent -- was seen as a factor that helped the Kaczynskis secure victory.
The party of the 58-year-old Kaczynskis has run the country of 38 million people during two years of growing prosperity but constant political turbulence.
The Kaczynskis have fought repeatedly with EU partners and strained relations with Germany and Russia. The opposition also accused the brothers of focusing on fighting corruption instead of reforming central Europe's biggest economy.
"The Civic Platform's economic program makes more sense to me. The market, not the government, should regulate the economy," said Krzysztof Zawadzki, 36, a tax advisor.
Sixty-year-old Maria Choszczyk, a teacher, said: "I voted for Law and Justice. It's the only party that is serious about combating crime and corruption."
Financial markets are betting on victory for the Platform. Expectations that it will win, and accelerate Poland's moves to adopt the euro, have lifted the zloty currency to its highest level for over five years.
Some 30 million Poles are eligible to vote.
More than 2 million Poles have headed abroad to search for work since Poland joined the European Union in 2004. Only 175,000 Poles registered to vote overseas, but many of those who did appeared to back the opposition.
"The ruling party has done nothing but quarrel and seek problems in places where there are none," said Piotr Kuljon, 35, a supermarket cashier who was voting in Manchester, England. ( Reuters )