Polish voters confirmed their shift to the right Sunday as they handed Donald Tusk of the center-right Civic Platform party a lead over his main rival for the presidency, Warsaw's conservative mayor Lech Kaczynski.
Tusk came out ahead in the poll
Neither Tusk nor Kaczynski, whom exit polls credited with around 38.5 percent and 33 percent respectively, had enough votes to claim victory in the first round of the election, exit polls showed.
The two will have to fight it out to succeed center-left President Aleksander Kwasniewski in a run-off on Oct. 23.
People walk past billboards presenting two main contenders in the presidential race in Poland, Donald Tusk and Lech Kaczynski
"This victory gives us hope for the second round," Tusk told jubilant PO activists in Warsaw after the exit polls showed him to have a five-point lead on Kaczynski. "I hope that the next two weeks will be a period of great, positive energy."
Kaczynski said he was confident he would bridge the gap between himself and Tusk to win in the second round because "my vision of a united Poland is more attractive to most Poles than the liberal vision" of Tusk and PO.
Ten other candidates were in the running for the presidency, but all finished far behind the two leaders.
The closest was Andrzej Lepper of the Samoobrona (Self-Defence) party with around 13 percent of the vote, according to the exit polls.
Low tur n out
Less than half the 30 million eligible voters in the new European Union member state -- 49.82 percent -- turned out to vote, according to the exit polls.
Although low, the figure was a marked improvement on turnout for legislative elections two weeks ago, when less than 40 percent of Poland's electorate cast ballots -- the lowest participation in a national election since the end of communism in 1989.
"When there aren't any fish in the sea, a crawfish can pass off for a fish," said former Polish president and Nobel laureate Lech Walesa, citing an old Polish saying, after casting his vote in Gdansk. "I tried to choose as wisely as I could, given the line-up, which was not to my liking. Still, if you can't get what you want, you make do with what you have."
Youth vs. experie n ce
Tusk presented himself as young, dynamic, and an able negotiator at the head of the business-friendly party he founded in 2001 and still leads.
He has the support of much of the business community and those who hope to see the high jobless rate of 17.7 percent come down decisively.
Kaczynski, of the conservative Catholic Law and Justice (PiS) party, based his campaign on his experience and a career unblemished by corruption, the blight which tarnished the outgoing center-left government and caused Poles to vote it out of office.
Final results for the first round are expected Monday morning.