Saturday, September 24, 2005

WARSAW — No government has been re-elected in Poland since the fall of communism in 1989, and that trend looks set to continue with today’s vote. After four years of left-wing rule, the pendulum is set to swing again — this time to the right.

A final pre-election public opinion poll showed two right-wing parties — both descendents of the former Solidarity movement — suddenly in a close battle for the lead.

Just a week ago the conservative Civic Platform (PO) was leading its right-wing rival, Law and Justice (PiS), by as much as 18 points. But the latest poll showed the PO leading by just 2 points, with 32 percent of the vote.

The incumbent Democratic Left-Alliance, made up of former communists, is holding on to third place with 13 percent.

The two conservative parties insist they want to form a coalition, and both are hoping for a constitutional majority — two-thirds of the 460 seats in the lower house of parliament — in order to carry out dramatic, if not radical, changes.

But the two parties differ on some fundamental issues. The PO is economically more market oriented, while being socially liberal. The PiS is very conservative socially, while favoring more state intervention in the economy.

Both parties talk confidently of forming a coalition, but many, including political analyst Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski, are skeptical.

“Their economic programs are so different, I can hardly imagine a coalition,” he said. “The PiS is certainly not [economically] liberal. They believe state influence over the economy is important. They’re right-wing because of their cultural program.”

That program, influenced by the Catholic Church, advocates a strengthening of law and order, according to Adam Bielan who is a member of the European Parliament and a campaign coordinator for the PiS.

“We’re calling for a moral revolution,” Mr. Bielan said in an interview. “Corruption is so big that it can only be changed with a shock.”

Poland has struggled with exceptionally high unemployment and widespread corruption since the fall of communism in 1989 and needs to make a fresh start, he explained.

He said his party is committed to cracking down on high-level corruption as well as low-level criminality. He cited a need for harsher penalties for criminals, pointing to the lack of a “life sentence” in the judicial process.

Meanwhile. the PO wants to slash government — including abolishing the upper house of parliament, the Senate — and slashing the number of seats in the lower house from 460 to 230, said Lukas Pawlowski of the PO’s public relations office.

Talk of radical change is not causing alarm in Poland. Eliza Durka, editor in chief of the Warsaw Business Journal, an English language weekly newspaper, said she’s optimistic about the new government but warns it must focus on reforms.

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