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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Left victorious in Poland
Leader of the Democratic Left Alliance Leszek Miller celebrates victory
The SLD has won a landslide victory
Polish voters have handed victory to the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), a party with roots in the country's former communist regime, exit polls show.

Exit polls suggest the Democratic Left is set to take around 41% of the vote, which would leave it just short of an outright majority in parliament.

The elections also marked the political extinction of the Solidarity bloc (AWS), which failed to win any seats, according to two separate exit polls.

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek
Buzek's Solidarity party has failed to win a single seat
Solidarity was the party that led Poland out of communism, but a BBC correspondent in Warsaw says its four-year rule has been marked by lower economic growth, higher unemployment and a series of scandals.

A combination of exit polls and a sampling of results from voting stations released early Monday by the private polling agency PBS showed the SLD winning 41.5% of the vote, enough for 221 seats in the 460-seat parliament, the Sejm.

The opposition is now made up of a clutch of small parties.

Civic Platform, which like the Democratic Left strongly supports Poland's bid to join the European Union, came second with about 13% of the vote.

But the exit polls suggest that about a quarter of seats will go to parties opposed to EU membership.

Radical victory

In a sign of disillusionment with mainstream politics, two notoriously radical parties initially given little chance got enough votes to enter parliament.

Self-Defence, a noisy farmers group that bitterly opposes European Union membership, won 9% of the vote. The party has a history of organising roadblocks to protest government policies.

And the League of Polish Families, a party of ultraconservative Roman Catholics, took 6.7%.

The Peasant Party, a long-established farmers grouping garnered 8.4%, while Solidarity won just 5.5% - it needed 8% to stay in parliament.

Turnout appeared low reflecting a docile campaign which was overshadowed by the recent attacks in the US, which led to political parties cancelling major rallies and other events.

PBS put the turnout at under 46%.

The result, which was met with enormous cheers at the headquarters of the Democratic Left party, represents an enormous shift in the country's political landscape.

Tough future

The country's likely new Finance Minister Marek Belka said that the result had given the Democratic Left a strong mandate to revive economic growth.

"Today the SLD can say that it will have a strong mandate to heal public finances and boost economic growth," he said.

But the BBC's correspondent in Poland says that the new government has a tough job ahead, curbing a growing budget deficit, reducing mass unemployment and speeding-up stalled EU entrance talks.

The BBC's Ray Furlong in Warsaw
"It's made electoral history in Poland"
Rafal Kiepuszewski, Polish Radio
"It is definitely the end of a political era"
See also:

21 Sep 01 | Business
Poland's economic challenge
08 Mar 01 | Europe
Prodi urges Polish reforms
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Poland
12 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Poland
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