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Europe

Former Solidarity Allies Prepare For Polish Election Battle

Two weeks after they finished neck and neck in the first round of Poland's presidential election, former comrades in arms Donald Tusk and Lech Kaczynski, are to face off Sunday in a decisive vote for the presidency.

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Poles will choose between two visions on Sunday

Tusk, the 48-year-old candidate of the business-friendly Civic Platform (PO) party, finished three percentage points in front of Kaczynski in the first round of the election two weeks ago, and then built up a healthy lead on his conservative rival.

But late Friday, the last day that poll results could be published before voting on Sunday, surveys showed the gap between the two closing to between 51 and 52 percent for Tusk and 48 to 49 for Kaczynski of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Although both cut their political teeth in the Solidarity movement back in its 1980s glory days when it numbered 10 million members -- or around one third of the population of Poland at the time -- since then, their ideologies have evolved differently.

Conservative vs. liberal

Tusk has become a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, open to Europe and to joining the euro single currency by the end of the decade.

Präsidentschaftswahlen in Polen Donald Tusk

Donald Tusk

He has campaigned for the presidency on that openness and on driving Poland's economy forward in order to cut the high jobless rate. He attracts younger, better educated, urban-based voters.

In the first round, Tusk won in Warsaw, where Kaczynski is currently mayor.

Kaczynski's campaign has mirrored his conservatism and played on Poles' patriotism, if not nationalism. With the elderly, less educated, rural dwellers backing him, he has also played on Poles' painful memories of the past and bucked the usual conservative line by promoting more state intervention in the economy and social system.

Poland's president does not usually influence social issues, a duty which falls to the government and lawmakers. But the president has the final say in foreign policy decisions and is commander-in-chief of the army.

Summing up his program on Friday, the last day campaigning was allowed before voting begins at 6:00 a.m. (0400 UTC) on Sunday, Tusk said his foreign policy would turn Poland into a strong and safe country by building friendly relations with neighbours Russia and Germany through dialogue and maintaining strong ties with NATO and Washington.

He also pledged to work with Poland's EU partners to build a common anti-terrorist policy.

A strong Poland

While Kaczynski also favors close ties with Washington, NATO and the EU, his foreign policy would be based on presenting a strong Poland that is not afraid of speaking its mind and banging its fist on the table if need be.

Präsidentschaftswahlen in Polen Lech Kaczynski

Lech Kaczynski

As head of state, he would not put up with the "flippant" attitude Moscow showed towards Poland when outgoing President Aleksander Kwasniewski visited the Russian capital in May for ceremonies to mark the end of World War II, and would not allow Germany to act against Poland's interests, Kaczynski said.

Poland was irate when German and Russian companies signed a deal in September to build a gas pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland and the Baltic states and depriving them of potentially lucrative transit fees.

Warsaw should also fiercely defend its interests within the EU, Kaczynski said.

After the first round vote, the conservative presidential contender said a visit to Washington would be one of the first on his agenda as president -- after the Vatican which would take priority "because most Poles are Catholic."

Backers

Solidarity founder Lech Walesa has thrown his weight behind Tusk while the present-day trade union, which, with around 500,000 members is only a shadow of the original movement, backs Kaczynski.

Horst Köhler in Polen bei Aleksander Kwasniewski

German President Horst Köhler, left, and Aleksander Kwasniewski

Tusk also has the backing of Kwasniewski and a left-wing party, while Kaczynski, who has put himself forward throughout the campaign as Poland's guardian against liberalism, has the support of the extreme-right League of Polish Families, by the populist, virulently anti-liberal leader of the Samoobrona (Self-Defence) party, Andrzej Lepper; by the ultra-conservative Catholic Radio Maryja, and the Peasants' Party. Thirty million Poles are eligible to vote although in the first round, less than 50 percent turned out to cast their ballots.

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