- Associated Press - Sunday, October 9, 2011

WARSAW (AP) — Poles voted Sunday in parliamentary elections to determine whether Poland continues on its conciliatory course with Russia and Germany, or whether it returns to a more combative stance with those historic foes.

An exit poll showed that the pro-European Union, centrist Civic Platform party of Prime Minister Donald Tusk would win with 39.6 percent of the votes.

The TNS OBOP exit poll showed opponent Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s conservative and nationalistic Law and Justice party with 30.1 percent.

The poll was published by the all-news station TVN24 on Sunday; official results are not expected until Monday.

Mr. Kaczynski, a former prime minister who was unseated by Mr. Tusk in 2007, made several anti-German comments in recent days, indicating that his party was prepared to resume a confrontational tone with the large neighbor to the West.

Mr. Tusk also has been trying to mend the relationship with Russia, Poland‘s powerful eastern neighbor, which many Poles still fear and resent.

Polish memories remain strong of Moscow’s invasion of Poland‘s eastern half in 1939 and its dominance of the country during the Cold War. More recent sources of friction have stemmed from Poland‘s support for the pro-Western Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2005 and Polish acceptance of a Bush-era plan for a U.S. missile defense base in Poland — a project that outraged Russia but that President Obama has since scaled back.

A government led by Mr. Kaczynski certainly would alter the tone. His twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, died in a plane crash in Russia in 2010 along with 95 other people, and Mr. Kaczynski has suggested that Mr. Tusk and Russian authorities are to blame. Mr. Tusk has said he fears that Mr. Kaczynski, should he return to power, will seek revenge on those he blames.

Voters in this country of 38 million elected 460 lawmakers to the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, and 100 to the Senate. The party that wins the most seats will be charged with forming a government; in the absence of an outright majority, it would need to seek a coalition partner.

Most voters leaving a polling station in southern Warsaw early Sunday said they had voted for Mr. Tusk’s Civic Platform.

Tusk is the most gifted and best politician we have,” said Antoni Stapka, 60, a mining engineer. “He is open to the world, pro-European, and he led us safely through the crisis.

“He takes reasonable decisions on the economy and does not let emotions guide him.”

Mr. Stapka said the opposition leader, Mr. Kaczynski, gives in to frustration, changes views and is “ready to do anything for politics, even sign a pact with the devil.”

But Mr. Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party also has declared backers.

“They are the only trustworthy people. They stand for what is most important in a nation’s life: for justice and for the rule of law,” said Edward Kalina, a 62-year-old shop owner.

Polling stations across the country were open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (1 a.m. to 3 p.m. EDT).

The vote was a major test for Mr. Tusk, who has presided over a period of remarkable growth and helped steer the state during the aftermath of the plane crash — Poland‘s worst adversity in decades.

To his supporters, Mr. Tusk is a moderate leader who has promoted stability and good relations with Germany, which occupied Poland throughout World War II; Russia; and the European Union. They point to the fact that the economy has grown steadily on his watch, even when the rest of Europe fell into recession in 2009.

His opponents accuse him of lacking the courage to make ambitious reforms in a country with significant problems, such as unemployment at nearly 12 percent and heavy state regulation that stifles businesses. The budget deficit also has grown during his term, and economists say Poland‘s current growth of around 4 percent will slow next year.

Mr. Kaczynski favors more state involvement in the economy to help the disadvantaged.

He is much more skeptical of outside powers and employs a strongly patriotic message. In recent days, he has provoked an uproar in Poland with a new book in which he accuses Germany of trying to subjugate Poland.

If Mr. Tusk’s Civic Platform wins on Sunday, it would make history by becoming the first party to win two consecutive terms since the fall of communism in 1989, underlying the growing stability that has replaced the political turmoil of the early years of democracy.

However, earlier surveys showed it unlikely to win enough votes to have an outright majority in parliament, meaning it likely would need to find a coalition partner. It had a good relationship with its junior partner of the past four years, the farm-based Polish People’s Party.

It remains to be seen whether the farm-based party will win enough seats to complete a government. Two other parties expected to win seats are the Democratic Left Alliance and its newly formed rival, Palikot’s Movement, which had some 10 percent support in recent polls, largely on populist promises.

Marian Dydka, a 43-year-old worker, said he voted for Palikot’s Movement because its leader, Janusz Palikot, known for his unconventional ways, is the “only one really capable of running the country.”

Monika Scislowska contributed to this article.

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