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Last Updated: Friday, 7 October 2005, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Polish rivals promise fresh start
By Jan Repa
BBC Europe analyst

Billboards showing Donald Tusk (left) and Lech Kaczynski
The presidential race marks the end of former communists in power
Poland will see a duel between two centre-right leaders in presidential elections on Sunday, two weeks after a similar liberal-conservative contest in the general elections.

The battle for the presidency is between Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk and the Law and Justice candidate and Warsaw mayor, Lech Kaczynski.

The presidential elections will complete the removal from power of former communists, represented by outgoing President Aleksander Kwasniewski and the heavily defeated governing Democratic Left Alliance.

For the past few weeks, the Law and Justice party has been running a poster campaign featuring Lech Kaczynski and the slogan: "A strong president and an honest Poland".

Earlier this week, Donald Tusk responded, saying he would turn the slogan around, to read: "A strong Poland and an honest president".

Signals

Poland's parliamentary elections, on 25 September, demonstrated three things:

  • That voters wanted to punish the ex-communists - in power since 2001 - who successfully brought Poland into the European Union last year, but failed to bring down unemployment and were soon mired in a succession of corruption scandals

  • That extremist parties - whether of the left or right - were even more marginalised than expected

  • A clear division between Poland's wealthier and poorer regions.

The more successful regions, often referred to as "Poland A" - mainly in the west of the country - voted for the liberal, pro-business Civic Platform.

The poorer regions, or "Poland B" - mainly in the east - voted for the more traditionally conservative, more welfare-minded Law and Justice party.

Both parties are committed to forming a coalition government. But, until the presidential elections are over, they seem to be concentrating on scoring points off each other.

Balance

Unlike most of the former Soviet bloc, Poland is a parliamentary democracy, where the president's functions are carefully circumscribed and mainly concerned with political mediation.

Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz
Law and Justice chose Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz as their PM candidate
Donald Tusk has been leading in opinion polls, though Lech Kaczynski has been catching up by appealing in particular to small-town and rural voters, many of whom would, until recently, have supported the ex-communists and populists.

Until now, political pundits have tended to assume that many people would vote tactically on Sunday, backing Donald Tusk, to counter-balance Lech Kaczynski's Law and Justice party, which came first in the parliamentary elections and thereby earned the right to nominate the prime minister.

Both Law and Justice and Civic Platform say they want to clean up corruption, downsize bureaucracy, save money by eliminating widespread abuses of the state welfare system, and assert Poland's position as one of the EU's larger member states.

Foreign policy role

However, there are clear policy differences too. Civic Platform stresses fiscal discipline; Law and Justice puts the emphasis on growth.

Law and Justice wants a clean-out of ex-Communists from public administration and talks of establishing a "Fourth Republic" in place of today's "Third". Civic Platform claims to be looking forward - not backward.

It is in the area of foreign policy that Poland's president can play a high-profile role.

President Kwasniewski took the initiative in last year's diplomacy in Ukraine, backing liberal leader Viktor Yushchenko, whose "Orange Revolution" defeated Russia's favoured candidate. It earned Mr Kwasniewski Moscow's enmity.

Both Mr Tusk and Mr Kaczynski want Poland to be a regional power - promoting democracy and a pro-Western orientation among its immediate eastern neighbours.

However, while Mr Kaczynski tends to stress Poland's national interest, Mr Tusk says he wants to establish a close relationship with Germany and to pursue a "firm but friendly" policy towards Russia.


SEE ALSO
Poland's election frontrunners
07 Oct 05 |  Europe
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
Country profile: Poland
13 Jun 04 |  Country profiles

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