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Europe

Close Contest Expected in Crunch Polish Election

An estimated 30 million Poles are eligible to vote Sunday in a snap parliamentary election. The poll is being called the most important since the collapse of communism in 1989.

The Kaczynski brothers shaking hands

The ruling Kaczynski brothers want to consolidate power in Poland

Former Polish president and Solidarity trade union leader Lech Walesa said on Friday, Oct. 19, that Poles had a moral obligation to vote because only a high turnout might defeat the ruling party of Prime Minister Jaroslaw and President Lech Kaczynski.

"We are deciding if our country will be ruled by one family, by two twin brothers who don't care about democracy and about our rights," Walesa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, told Reuters on Friday.

"It is the most important election since the end of the totalitarian state and we must attend it," Walesa, 64, added.

Voters weary of political theater

Pre-election opinion polls showed the opposition liberal Civic Platform (PO) pulling ahead of the governing conservative-nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Students protest against corruption and the failure of government in Warsaw

Poles have protested the state of politics in their country

The PO catapulted into top spot after leader Donald Tusk dominated two high-profile televised debates, crushing both archrival Kaczynski and left-wing contender and former president Aleksander Kwasniewski.

However, given Kaczynski's knack for winning elections opinion polls suggest he will lose, analysts in Warsaw are reluctant to predict second spot for the PiS.

The unrelenting grind of high-pitched scandals, rows, mudslinging and election threats that have dominated Polish politics over the two years since the last regular parliamentary election have exhausted the electorate.

While some pre-election opinion polls have predicted voter turnout of up to 70 percent on Sunday, experts expect a repeat of the record low 40.5 percent showing at the ballot box in September 2005.

Most of those who said they intend to vote will so out of a sense of civic duty rather than real enthusiasm. They will choose what many termed the "lesser evil" in a country where most people consider all politicians to have dirty hands.

Both the PO and PiS promised voters a stable coalition prior to the September 2005 election.

The PiS won by a narrow margin and subsequently failed to clinch a deal with the liberals.

Conflict and corruption rips coalition apart

The new Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Jaroslaw Kaczynski dissolved parliament in September

Sunday's snap ballot was called after Jaroslaw Kaczynski's conflict-riddled coalition with two small populist parties collapsed this summer amid allegations of corruption. The prime minister himself pushed for the self-dissolution of parliament on Sept. 7, which triggered the early general election.

The snap ballot comes amid allegations by opposition politicians and analysts that Jaroslaw Kaczynski violated the fundamentals of democracy by using his government's anti-corruption crusade to cover attempts by the secret service and justice ministry to neutralize his political rivals.

Kaczynski has, however, brushed aside the allegations as an unfounded smear campaign aimed at torpedoing his government's effort to eliminate corruption and the grip of so-called "oligarchs," or self-made Polish businessmen, on the state apparatus.

Surveys suggest no party will capture an outright majority in Sunday's election, potentially prolonging political instability in the ex-communist country of 38 million.

The votes of more than a million Poles currently living and working mostly in the UK and Ireland could prove decisive.

Opposition promises a reverse of Kaczynski policies

Donald Tusk, leader of Poland's main opposition Civic Platform party

Donald Tusk impressed Poles in a pair of televised debates

The business-friendly PO is campaigning on promises of boosting entrepreneurship by slashing bureaucracy and introducing a 15 percent flat tax. The liberals also want a withdrawal of Poland's 900 troops from Iraq and have vowed to improve the absorption of vital EU funding.

Officials in Brussels recently warned Warsaw risks losing billions of euros in subsidies for much needed highway and public infrastructure projects due to the Kaczynski government's sluggishness in project planning and execution.

Poland's relations within the European Union have also experienced stress during two years of rule by Prime Minister Kaczynski and his identical twin brother President Lech Kaczynski.

This summer, Poland threatened to block work on the 27-member bloc's crucial future constitution and has scuppered a fresh EU-Russia agreement over a bilateral Poland-Russia trade dispute.

Political analysts point out that another PiS victory would prolong the concentration of executive power in the hands of the twin brothers and could well compromise the health of Poland's democratic system.

President Lech Kaczynski's term expires in 2010, while the new parliament would be able to sit through 2012.

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