- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

WARSAW — A pro-free market lawmaker and Warsaw’s socially conservative mayor appeared headed for a runoff in a presidential election yesterday after neither candidate gained 50 percent of the vote, according to an authoritative exit poll.

Final results were not expected until today, the state electoral commission said. Exit polls in Poland have proven in the past to be a reliable indicator of the final tally.

The state television exit poll indicated that Donald Tusk, a pro-business candidate committed to stimulating entrepreneurship with low taxes and deregulation, finished with about 38 percent; Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, of the Law and Justice party, a former child actor hoping to preserve a strong safety net, had 32 percent.

If the results hold, the two former activists with the anti-communist Solidarity movement would be forced into a runoff on Oct. 23.

Both candidates can be expected to continue a strong pro-U.S. stance. And as relations have worsened with Russia lately, Poland’s need for Washington’s support has grown even more important, political analysts say.

The race in the ex-communist country centered on the Europe-wide issue of just how far to go in sacrificing old welfare-state protections for the promise of an American-style economy with fast growth and job creation.

“This is a victory,” a smiling Mr. Tusk proclaimed from a platform set up at the National Museum, where members of his Civic Platform party gathered. “I’m happy that millions of Poles decided it was worth going to vote, and that it was worth voting for Donald Tusk.”

Turnout was 50.5 percent, according to state television.

The two front-runners barely discussed the outgoing government’s plan to pull Polish troops out of Iraq by early next year, though their parties suggested the force could stay longer — provided the country can renegotiate terms of the deployment with Washington. The deployment of about 1,500 troops is deeply unpopular in Poland.

While the prime minister and his government wield most executive power in Poland, the president is commander in chief of the armed forces, and can veto laws and direct foreign policy by representing Poland abroad.

Both Mr. Tusk and Mr. Kaczynski have their political roots in the anti-communist Solidarity movement of the 1980s and have pledged to fight corruption and the continued influence in politics of former communists.

Yesterday’s vote, along with a parliamentary election Sept. 25, pushed Poles to discuss how much capitalist-style reform they will tolerate, in a country with an official unemployment rate of 18 percent, the highest in Europe.

The two leading parties — Civic Platform and Law and Justice — are now in coalition talks to form a government, but they have been hampered by the rivalry in the presidential race.

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