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Last Updated: Friday, 14 September 2007, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
Polish PM in tight election race
By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw

Poland's Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski
Mr Kaczynski's party could benefit from a strong economy
Poland will hold parliamentary elections next month, two years ahead of schedule, with Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski rallying support for a traditional brand of conservatism.

He believes his Law and Justice party has a very strong chance of being re-elected when Poles cast their votes on 21 October. His twin brother Lech is Polish president.

Law and Justice is currently running neck-and-neck in the opinion polls with Civic Platform, another centre-right but economically more liberal party favoured by the business community.

But unlike Civic Platform, after two years in government Mr Kaczynski can claim achievements.

The economy is growing at 7% and unemployment is falling rapidly, although some analysts say this is partially caused by the estimated one million Poles who have left the country in recent years.

At the same time Poland is now the largest beneficiary of structural funds from the European Union.

Unlike their Eurosceptic prime minister, Poles are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the country's EU membership.

EU benefits

Mr Kaczynski only agreed to the new EU treaty outline at the summit in June after winning concessions on voting rights.

It's not that Mr Kaczynski is against democracy per se, but he feels the institutions need to adapt to his will
Konstanty Gebert, columnist
Despite signing up to the deal, Poland is still fighting its corner on the details.

"It's hard for a government to lose an election if the economy is doing as well as it is. While the bashing of the EU should go against them, it actually increases their attractiveness," Konstanty Gebert, a columnist for the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, told me.

He added: "Some people see it as, 'they're milking those dumb EU idiots and they can even get away with it'".

Mr Kaczynski's more assertive foreign policy has worsened relations with neighbours Russia and Germany. In terms of Russia, that should not cost the prime minister too many votes.

But his attacks on Germany, Poland's largest trading partner, have left many bewildered.

Mr Kaczynski justified Poland's demand for greater voting power within the EU by saying the country's population would now be much larger if the Germans had not killed six million Polish citizens in World War II.

"Mr Kaczynski seems to believe that Germany still owes us big time for the Second World War. He also believes the EU is a grab-all, therefore relations between Poland and Germany are a zero-sum game," said Mr Gebert. "The more we reduce the power of the Germans, the more power we have."

Anti-corruption drive

In domestic affairs Mr Kaczynski can claim his government has been the first to seriously tackle crime and corruption. His government has reformed the courts and created an anti-corruption agency.

Ex-Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel
Vaclav Havel wants international monitoring of Poland's election
His firmly held belief that Poland has been run behind the scenes by a network of former communists and corrupt businessmen since communism collapsed in 1989 is also supported by a large section of the population, who feel they have suffered under the free market.

"Poles often think of our country as a country without justice. People who sometimes have huge difficulties making ends meet realise that the people who have run Poland for the last 17 years have only benefited," said Wojciech Roszkowski, a member of the European Parliament affiliated to Law and Justice.

"Businessmen have accumulated immense wealth because they had access to the communist cashbox, not because of talent or hard work."

"People see this as an injustice, so cleaning the state is not a policy of revenge, it's based on a sense of justice," according to Mr Roszkowski.

Others accuse Mr Kaczynski of running a witch-hunt. He has even been accused of endangering democracy by abusing the secret services to spy on his political rivals - a charge he denies.

"It's not that Mr Kaczynski is against democracy per se, but he feels the institutions need to adapt to his will.

"This is a fundamental threat to the basic functioning of democracy, because democracy is based on respect for different principles and a certain amount of horse-trading, not riding roughshod over other people's points of view," said Mr Gebert.

During a recent visit, former Czech President Vaclav Havel said international monitors should oversee the coming elections to ensure they are fair.

But Mr Roszkowski said Mr Havel had "no grounds" for such comments, "because democracy in Poland is not in danger".

Due to its proportional voting system Poland is likely to get another coalition government following next month's elections, because no party looks able to win a majority in parliament.

The make-up of the new coalition will determine how stable it is, and that will depend on the horse-trading after the results are announced.

Sacked Polish minister arrested
30 Aug 07 |  Europe
Country profile: Poland
23 Aug 07 |  Country profiles
The spy files tormenting Poland
25 Jul 07 |  Europe

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