Kwasniewski re-elected in Poland, exit poll suggests

 

The Polish President, Mr Alek sander Kwasniewski, a former communist turned social democrat, won re-election yesterday in the first round of voting, an exit poll released by public television indicated.

The poll by the private PBS agency gave Mr Kwasniewski 56.1 per cent of the vote, well above the 50 per cent needed to avoid a run-off in two weeks' time. The survey indicated the centrist independent candidate, Mr Andrzej Olechowski, won 18.1 per cent support.

Mr Marian Krzaklewski - leader of the ruling Solidarity bloc (AWS), with which the president has uneasily cohabited since 1997 - hoped the splintered right-wing electorate would consolidate behind him in the second round.

The elections featured 12 candidates with views ranging from left-radical to ultra-nationalist, but most of them have marginal support rates.

The former president, Mr Lech Walesa, whom Mr Kwasniewski defeated five years ago, put on a brave face in view of his small public support, which analysts say stems from the quarrelsome style of his 1990-1995 presidency. "If the second round pits Kwasniewski against Krzaklewski, I will back the latter, as despite differences we come from the same Solidarity camp," Mr Walesa had said.

Mr Kwasniewski (45), admired by supporters for the confidence with which he presided over Poland's entry to NATO last year and the political calm he brought to his post, has said achieving EU membership will be his top priority during a second term.

Poland hopes to join the EU in 2003. Brussels officials say that 2005 is the bloc's earliest realistic expansion date. Other candidates had also supported quick EU membership, although Mr Krzaklewski stressed Poland had to preserve its national identity after accession.

Solidarity-rooted candidates had tried with little success to discredit Mr Kwasniewski by highlighting his origins in the pre-1989 communist system. Mr Kwasniewski was a senior member of the communist party and sports minister in the last communist government.

Analysts say that for Polish politicians the presidential ballot is a prelude to the more important general election, due next year, which is expected to be won by the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which Mr Kwasniewski led until 1995.

Final results will be announced tomorrow.