October 10, 2011

POLAND: Ruling Centrists Come Out On Top In General Election

France24 news
written by AFP staff
Monday October 10, 2011

Poland's governing centrists won a landmark second term in Sunday's general election, initial results showed, seeing off a challenge from the conservative opposition.

Figures from almost 15 percent of polling stations, released by the national electoral commission early Monday, gave Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Civic Platform (PO) 37.21 percent of the vote.

Pollsters TNS OBOP estimated that PO won 212 seats, up from 208 in the outgoing parliament.

Its junior coalition partner, the rural-based Polish People's Party (PSL) scored 9.22 percent, meaning a projected 27 seats, down from 31.

Together, the result gave them a total of 239, mirroring their current majority in the 460-member chamber.

It marked a political watershed, as no incumbent government has won a new mandate in the six general elections since the fall of Poland's communist regime in 1989.

With Poland having kept out of recession, Tusk's campaign centered on his image as a prudent steward for tough economic times.

"The coming four years will see an even more crucial challenge, because we will have to work twice as hard and act twice as fast," Tusk told ecstatic supporters.

The conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party led by hardball ex-premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski received 29.98 percent of the vote -- and a projected 158 seats, improving on the 146 it held before.

"We remain convinced that Poland wants major change," Kaczynski said. "We need to convince millions of Poles."

"Our day of victory will come," he pledged.

In 2007, voters fed up with PiS swept Tusk's PO into power.

The conservatives, who lost European parliamentary elections in 2009 and presidential and local polls in 2010, made some headway ahead of Sunday's vote with a campaign centred on bread and butter issues.

But Tusk warned of a return to the deep divisions of the past.

Highly divisive on the domestic scene, Kaczynski also locked horns regularly with Poland's European Union allies when he was premier in 2006-2007.

Poland joined the EU in 2004 and holds the 27-nation bloc's six-month presidency until December 31, boosting Tusk's prestige as the nation of 38 million seeks to play a heavyweight role.

Poland has weathered the global crisis well.

Its economy expanded 1.7 percent in 2009 which, while a shadow of previous years, still made Poland the only EU member to maintain growth.

The 2010 rate was 3.8 percent. This year's forecast is 4.0 percent, and for 2012, 2.7 percent.

Poland is not in the eurozone, but with its main trade partners in the debt-struck currency union, it is following developments nervously. Tusk pledges to keep cutting the budget deficit to offset the risks.

The opposition focused on inflation, pensions and healthcare, saying Poles deserved better.

Communist-era Solidarity opposition leader Lech Walesa, Poland's president from 1990-1995, said he had voted for Tusk's PO.

"There's no better option right now," Walesa said.

PiS ruled in 2005-2007, with Kaczynski premier in 2006-2007 until his coalition with the far-right and populists unravelled.

Kaczynski was the identical twin of conservative president Lech Kaczynski, elected in 2005 and killed in a plane crash in Russia in April last year. Tusk ally Bronislaw Komorowski beat him in a July 2010 snap presidential poll.

Tusk, who has mended fences abroad since 2007, rebuked Kaczynski this week for claiming that Germany aimed to subjugate Poland hand-in-hand with Russia.

The big surprise of Sunday's election was the new Palikot Movement of flamboyant former vodka tycoon and ex-PO member Janusz Palikot, with 10.27 percent of the vote and a forecast 39 seats.

It sets itself apart in deeply Catholic Poland for its anti-clericalism and for backing gay partnerships and legalised marijuana.

"Life is beautiful. Everything is possible," Palikot told roaring supporters.

The opposition Democratic Left Alliance scored 8.65 percent and was projected to drop from 43 seats to 23 -- a major blow for a party that was in power in 2001-2005.

The remaining seat went to an ethnic German minority party.

The final election results are not due to be released until Tuesday.

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