Center-Right Wins Poland Election

By Vanessa Gera
Published September 26th 2005
WARSAW, Poland (AP) - Voters in Poland's parliamentary elections shunned the nation's scandal-prone government of ex-communists to embrace two center-right parties that have promised tax cuts and clean government, nearly complete results showed Monday.

The conservative Law and Justice Party had 26.8 percent of the vote in Sunday's parliamentary election with 90 percent of ballots counted. The free-market Civic Platform had 24.2 percent.

The two parties, made up of former activists in the Solidarity movement, say they will form a coalition enabling them to claim more than 270 seats in parliament's 460-member lower house.

The returns showed around 11 percent support for the governing Democratic Left Alliance, a dramatic fall from the 41 percent that swept them to power four years ago. The populist Self-Defense Party, with just over 12 percent of votes, was set to become the third largest force in parliament.

Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 56, said he had a mandate to become prime minister. He said that his party had agreed with Civic Platform that the job would be filled by the largest party.

As in Germany's election a week ago, Polish voters appeared to balk at the prospect of drastic cuts to welfare benefits by giving the strongest backing to Law and Justice, a party that blends the idea of free markets with concern for social equality. It opposes Civic Platform's calls for a flat income tax of 15 percent.

But the campaign failed to captivate a largely apathetic electorate, with turnout - at just 39 percent - the lowest for a parliamentary election in post-communist Poland.

Law and Justice favors cutting income tax, but would keep high earners paying a greater portion of their income, and enact tax breaks for large families. It has vowed to tackle Polish unemployment, which stands at 17.8 percent despite strong growth.

The party also favors the death penalty - prohibited by Poland's EU membership - and promises to crack down on corruption and purge ex-communists from top positions in government.

The new government also must decide what to do with Poland's deployment of 1,500 troops in Iraq. They are scheduled to come home after the current troop rotation expires Dec. 31; the new leading parties have said they will stick to that unless a new agreement is reached with the United States to keep them longer.

The two parties were to hold talks on ministerial positions later this week.

Kaczynski indicated in an interview published Monday that he envisions Jan Rokita, a leader of Civic Platform, as deputy prime minister and maybe as foreign minister too.

One reservation, however, may be that Rokita's English is not good enough for that post.

``I know Rokita is learning this language intensively, but a foreign minister should really be very proficient in it,'' Kaczynski said in an interview with the daily Rzeszpospolita. ``I heard he was making quick progress. Of course, if he prefers a different ministry, I'm open to debate.''

Vote tallies were likely to change somewhat, as Warsaw, with some 1.5 million residents, was lagging behind in the count, said the head of the elections commission, Ferdynand Rymarz.

Formation of a government is certain to be complicated by the fact that Kaczynski's identical twin brother, Lech, is running in next month's presidential election.

To avoid having lookalike leaders occupy the county's two top political positions, Jaroslaw Kaczynski repeated his promise that he would not take the prime minister's post if his brother, Warsaw's mayor, wins his race.

The prime minister wields most executive powers. The president can veto and suggest legislation, represents Poland abroad, and is commander of the armed forces.


Associated Press writers Monika Scislowska, Ryan Lucas, Yuras Karmanau and Ela Kasprzycka contributed to this report.