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Europe

Conservative Kaczynski Wins Polish Election

Poland on Sunday elected the conservative, staunchly Catholic Lech Kaczynski president by a definitive margin, bucking pre-vote surveys that had given his liberal rival the lead.

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Warsaw Mayor Kaczynski beat the odds in a last minute victory

Kaczynski, of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, garnered 55 percent of the vote compared with 45 percent for his liberal, Europe-friendly opponent, Donald Tusk. The numbers were officially reported, although a final vote count won't be published until Monday afternoon.

"Mr Chairman, mission accomplished," Kaczynski said at PiS's election evening in central Warsaw, addressing his identical twin Jaroslaw, who heads PiS, and who last month refused the post of prime minister so as not to jeopardize his brother's chances of being elected president.

Turnout for the in a run-off election was slightly more than 50 percent, up on the first round when it was less than 50 percent.

Last-minute win

Both of the presidential rivals cut their political teeth in the Solidarity movement that in the 1980s helped Poland shake off communism, but since then, they have moved apart ideologically.

Tusk's Civic Platform (PO) party embraced free-market liberalism and Kaczynski a breed of Polish conservatism that is close to the Catholic church. In the case of his PiS party, it favors state intervention in the economy and social aid for the underprivileged.

Kaczynski's victory mirrored what happened to his party in last month's parliamentary election, when it pulled ahead of its opponents in the final straight to finish strongest, winning the right to choose Poland's next prime minister.

Pre-election polls had predicted since July that Tusk would win, and showed the liberal in the lead up until the vote, although that lead had diminished by late Friday.

Tusk lacked 'concept'

"Tusk lost because of the mistakes he made in the final week of campaigning: there was no clear concept, and less activity at his headquarters," said Mikolaj Czesnik, a political scientist from Poland's Institute of Sciences.

At PO's decidedly more sombre election evening, Tusk made no attempt to conceal his disappointment at losing.

"I'm not going to pretend, I'm a little bit sad," he said. "If I have disappointed anyone, I ask them to forgive me. I did what I could."

He congratulated Kaczynski and assured his supporters that, although he had not won the presidency, he and PO would "watch over what's most important of all: the freedom of each and every Pole. We will ensure that the state never wrongs anyone again."

Gracious winner

Kaczynski extended an olive branch to Tusk, saying: "He fought a splendid battle …"I ask our friends in PO to quickly end talks on forming a government," he said.

Kaczynski's campaign mirrored his conservatism, his traditional Catholicism, and played on Poles' nationalism and the social inequality that is still apparent in Poland, despite the burgeoning economy since the country joined the European Union last year.

"Lech Kaczynski waged a fear-factor campaign in the past few weeks, and he succeeded in scaring people," said political analyst Cornelius Ochmann, from Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation. "Just as we saw in Germany, people are scared of reforms."

His virulent anti-gay stance -- he twice banned Gay Pride marches through Warsaw -- has won him support among Poland's conservative Catholic voters. Poland's next president -- the third to be freely elected since the end of communism in 1989 -- is to be sworn in on December 23, when Aleksander Kwasniewski, who has held the office for two terms, stands down.

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