Poles seem poised to elect fallen president’s rival over grieving twin running in his place

By Vanessa Gera, AP
Saturday, June 19, 2010

Poles pick successor to president killed in crash

WARSAW, Poland — Poles were choosing a new president Sunday more than two months after their leader was killed in a plane crash. One of the leading candidates is his twin brother, but opinion polls show he faces an uphill battle in defeating the favorite candidate.

The contest centers on Parliament Speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, the acting president, and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the identical twin of the late president. Eight other candidates are in the running.

Poland is the only European Union country to have avoided recession during the global economic downturn. The election will determine how it fares amid the new debt crisis and shape its stance on issues such as the adoption of the euro, welfare reform and Poland’s mission in Afghanistan.

More than 30 million of Poland’s 38 million citizens are registered to vote in nearly 26,000 polling stations across this eastern European country. If no candidate reaches 50 percent, the two top contenders will compete in a runoff July 4.

The president is elected for a five-year term separately from the prime minister and his government. Although many duties are symbolic, the president can veto laws and, as commander in chief, has influence over foreign military missions.

President Lech Kaczynski and his wife were among 96 people killed when their plane crashed while trying to land in heavy fog in Smolensk, Russia, on April 10. The delegation included many high-ranking civilian and military leaders, and their loss provoked deep grief across the nation. Many called it the worst tragedy to strike Poland since World War II.

The front-runner, Komorowski, is a pro-European Union, moderate member of the governing Civic Platform party. He has pledged to work closely with the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk to adopt the euro in about five years, end the unpopular military mission in Afghanistan and promote pro-market reforms.

Polling in second place is Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a social conservative whose main goals are to fight crime and corruption, scale back market reforms to preserve a strong welfare state and promote Roman Catholic values. He is more skeptical about the European Union and adoption of the euro, saying it’s too early to set a timetable for giving up the Polish currency, the zloty.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a former prime minister, is known for his nationalism and his combative tone, but he has struck a more moderate tone since his brother’s death. Many Poles are unsure of whether the change is permanent or a campaign strategy to win over middle-of-the-road voters.

Voting was taking place in regions along the Vistula and Oder rivers that were damaged by heavy flooding this spring. By 5 p.m., 41.57 percent of registered voters had cast ballots.

Opinions were split early Sunday among voters in southern Warsaw. Komorowski’s supporters stressed his calm and ties to the government. Backers of Kaczynski called him trustworthy.

Jan Rostafinski, a 62-year-old lawyer, said he voted for Komorowski, whom he knows personally.

“He is the best among the candidates: he has rich experience, moderate views and a sense of humor, which the predecessor was lacking,” Rostafinski said.

But a 54-year-old doctor, Ewa Stawinska, said she would vote for Kaczynski because she thought it was better for the president and the prime minister to be from different parties and she liked that he stands for Catholic values.

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