Poles voting in run-off presidential election

 

Poles voted today in a presidential election run-off that will help decide the speed and scale of economic reforms, and set the tone for Warsaw's relations with its European Union partners and Russia.

The election was called after President Lech Kaczynski and other top officials died in a plane crash near the Russian city of Smolensk on April 10th.

It pits Kaczynski's identical twin Jaroslaw, the combative eurosceptic leader of the main right-wing opposition party, against Bronislaw Komorowski, candidate of Poland's ruling centrist Civic Platform (PO).

Most opinion polls have signalled a victory for Mr Komorowski, who became acting president on Lech Kaczynski's death in his role as speaker of parliament.

However, polls usually underestimate support for Mr Kaczynski, who has narrowed the gap in recent weeks and lagged by just five percentage points in a first round of voting on June 20th.

Financial markets favour Mr Komorowski’s presidency, expecting him to work smoothly with fellow PO member prime minister Donald Tusk and his market-oriented government to try to rein in a big budget deficit and keep a fragile economic recovery on track.

But Mr Kaczynski's blend of Catholic piety, his opposition to spending cuts and privatisation, and his distrust of big business, EU bureaucrats and Poland's historic foe Russia strike a deep chord, especially among older, poorer, provincial voters.

"I voted for Kaczynski because he is better for ordinary people, workers, farmers and beekeepers," said Stanislaw Przybysz selling honey out of a van on a Warsaw street.

In Poland, the government led by the prime minister sets policy, but the president can propose and veto laws, appoints some key officials and has a say in foreign and security policy.

Mr Komorowski’s camp fears that the mid-summer timing of the election, combined with unusually hot weather, will help Mr Kaczynski as its younger, wealthier core voters are more likely to take holidays and fail to cast their ballots.

But yesterday the election commission issued hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots enabling people to vote while away on holiday.

More than 42 per cent of eligible voters had cast their ballots after the first 11 hours of voting, the commission said this evening, more than the 41.5 per cent recorded at the same time a fortnight ago when the total first-round turnout amounted to 54 per cent.

"This has been a strange campaign and everything about it has been different because of the floods and Smolensk tragedy," former post-communist president Aleksander Kwasniewski told PAP news agency after casting his ballot. 

Floods killed 20 people and forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes this month, transforming the election campaign into a contest among the candidates to show the most solidarity with the victims.

Polling closes at 9pm (Irish time) with exit polls expected soon afterwards.

Reuters