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Last Updated: Friday, 23 September 2005, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Analysis: Polish election battle
By Jan Repa
BBC Europe analyst

Poster of Polish presidential candidate Lech Kaczynski, leader of Law and Justice Party, in Warsaw
Lech Kaczynski's twin brother is also running for high office

Two centre-right parties are expected to defeat Poland's governing ex-communists in parliamentary elections on Sunday.

The polls are Poland's first since joining the European Union in May 2004.

Since the break-up of the Soviet bloc 16 years ago political power in Poland has alternated between parties which emerged from the Solidarity movement and the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance.

Despite this, the general strategy pursued by Poland has been remarkably consistent:

  • integration with Western institutions like Nato and the EU
  • the creation of a market economy with a strong element of social welfare
  • an eastern policy aimed at establishing a belt of friendly countries between Poland and Russia

It was a Democratic Left Alliance leadership which last year brought Poland successfully into the EU and which backed the Orange Revolution in neighbouring Ukraine.

Left struggling

Nonetheless, the ex-communists now face electoral meltdown.

Civic Platform boss Donald Tusk
Civic Platform boss Donald Tusk: Tipped to become president
A succession of corruption scandals, the failure to bring down unemployment and suggestions of continuing dubious links with Moscow have appeared to validate opposition claims that, in the end, you cannot trust an old "commie".

That leaves the centre-right parties making all the running.

Civic Platform and Law and Justice have been running neck-and-neck in opinion polls - with a combined opinion poll score of between 60 and 70%.

They have already announced their intention to form a coalition government - with the party that wins more seats getting the post of prime minister.

But in the absence of a strong challenge from the Left, the two parties have, in recent days, taken to attacking each other.

Law and Justice, in particular, has worked hard to capture part of the ex-Democratic Left Alliance vote - stressing its commitment to social welfare and accusing Civic Platform of trying to conduct a "liberal experiment" on the nation.

Nonetheless, most observers expect there will be a two-party centre-right government.

One issue the two would need to iron out is taxation. Civic Platform wants to introduce a flat 15% rate for income tax, corporation tax and VAT. Law and Justice says this is unfair.

Civic Platform wants Poland to adopt the euro as soon as possible. Law and Justice says Poland's priority should be growth.

Leaning to West

What kind of foreign policy would the two pursue?

Protest
Poor living conditions have angered former Solidarity supporters
Both parties say they want to maintain Poland's close relations with the US and to play an assertive role in the EU.

Both see Russia as a potential strategic threat - and say Poland should seek to diversify its sources of oil and gas.

But while Civic Platform would also like to work closely with Germany, Law and Justice is more prone to nationalist rhetoric.

There has been much talk recently on the Polish centre-right of establishing a so-called "Fourth Republic".

The First Republic was destroyed by Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1795. The Second Republic was the Poland of the inter-war years - from 1918 to 1939. The Third Republic has been in existence since the fall of Poland's Soviet-backed communist regime in 1989.

A "Fourth Republic" would imply that the "post-communist" phase of Polish history is now over. However, this would also be likely to necessitate the eventual consolidation of a left-wing force in Poland, without roots in the old communist regime.

Whether Law and Justice is the party which can successfully combine patriotism, social conservatism and left-wing social policies is yet to be demonstrated.


SEE ALSO
Q&A: Polish elections
23 Sep 05 |  Europe
The twins who would lead Poland
16 Jun 05 |  Europe
Polish PM seeks early elections
03 Mar 05 |  Europe
Polish PM keeps promise to quit
02 May 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Poland
13 Jun 04 |  Country profiles

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