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Europe

Poland Set to Swing to the Right in Polls

Poles trickled out to vote Sunday in the country's first general elections since joining the EU last year. Opinion polls predict a center-right coalition will sweep the corruption-stained Left from power.

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Voting for change?

In overwhelmingly Catholic Poland, the rush of voting was
expected after morning mass. Poles have until 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) to cast their ballots.

Some 30 million Poles are eligible to elect 460 members of the Sejm lower house and 100 senators for a four-year mandate.

Key issues at stake are unemployment -- 17.8 percent of Poland's workforce is out of a job, the highest percentage in the European Union, which the central European country joined last year -- and reforms to the economy and administration.

Leading up to the polls, surveys put the centre-right
economically liberal Civic Platform (PO), which is proposing a
15-percent, across-the-board flat tax, or the more conservative Catholic Law and Justice (PiS) party in the lead.

A poll published in the liberal Rzeczpospolita newspaper on Friday put the Civic Platform in the lead with 34 percent, ahead of the conservative, Catholic Law and Justice (PiS) party, whose agenda includes state aid for the underprivileged and government intervention in the economy, at 29 percent.

Another poll shows the parties in a dead heat.

What is missing however is the left: opinion polls show that many left-wing parties are not even garnering the five percent needed to win a seat in parliament.

What should the non-conservative Polish voter do, many are asking. Polls predict that many will just stay home.

Disgust with politics

Poles are also put off voting by "a general feeling of disgust with politics," Polish Academy of Sciences sociologist Malgorzata Melchior told news agency AFP. "Politicians have not stopped trading insults, and that discredits the entire political class in the eyes of the voters."

Wahlen in Polen Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Poland's conservative party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski is running for office with his identical twin brother

Early this week, Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, head of the Institute of Public Affairs, said Poles were reluctant to vote because they think "politicians tend to go back on their promises, lie and disregard ordinary voters."

Voters are particularly disenchanted with the ruling leftist alliance, the SLD, which has slid to the bottom of the Polish political mountain. It's polling around five percent right now; in the last election four years ago, it took 41 percent. The reason: corruption scandals and inability to reduce unemployment.

SLD leaders have been convicted for bribery and letting gangsters know about future raids. Public frustration with the SLD has grown so strong that even its own members are turning to its conservative arch-enemies, Law and Justice – who once called the SLD a "criminal organization."

The SLD has admitted its mistakes. Its leader Wojchiech Olejniczak said they were now paying the political price. However, other SLD politicians have hit back at Law and Justice, claiming it is trying to polarise Polish society to get votes.

Two partners trading punches

But the most vocal punches between parties is that between the two likely coalition partners.

In the final days of campaigning before Sunday's vote, PiS and PO began trading punches, casting doubt on whether their alliance would be able to effectively govern Poland.

Wahlen in Polen Jan Rokita

Prime minister hopeful Jan Rokita of Poland's pro-business Civic Platform believes they will win

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who could become prime minister if his party clinches the biggest score on Sunday, and whose twin brother Lech is the party's candidate for president in next month's election, this week accused PO of not having a political agenda.

PO parried the attack, with its prime minister designate Jan Rokita telling PiS to "stop poking fun at our agenda... and show some seriousness and reliability."

PO's presidential candidate Donald Tusk joined the fray, accusing PiS of following "a dangerous political strategy" by courting the far right, after a PiS campaign leader said this week on ultra-conservative Catholic Radio Maryja that Tusk's image was "built on fiction."

"I appeal (to PiS) to abandon this dangerous political strategy and confirm their will to build a good, wise and responsible government with PO," Tusk told AFP.

"If Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski think they'll be able to build a wealthy and safe Poland (with the far-right) and, at the same time, cooperate with PO, then they'd better think again. You can't build a safe Poland with people whose main driving forces are hatred, obsession and hang-ups."

Meanwhile, Law and Justice has erased the Civic Platform's 10 point lead over the last two weeks. The two future partners both promise lower taxes, more jobs and less corruption. But the Civic Platform wants faster reform a 15-percent single tax rate, deregulation, privatization and budget cuts.

Another Germany ?

Der polnische Präsident Aleksander Kwasniewski

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski

Outgoing President Aleksander Kwasniewski on Friday urged voters not to be discouraged by the one-sided opinion polls saying the center-right would sweep the board.

"We will see on Sunday night if opinion polls were right," he said on public Radio One Friday, urging Poles to vote. "The situation might look like it did in Germany, where the

election results differed from pre-election polls."

In Germany, the Social Democrats rose from behind to catch up with the heavily favored conservatives last Sunday, creating a deadlock. Many attribute the result to voter fears of more aggressive reform measures.

Kwasniewski, a former communist, has said he would prefer political power to be divided between the center-right and left, to ensure a balanced parliament with a system of mutual controls.

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