Poles Vote in Presidential Election That May End Rift With Prime Minister
Polish voters are casting ballots today in a presidential runoff that may determine how quickly the country moves forward with efforts to reduce the budget deficit and adopt the euro.
Bronislaw Komorowski of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform garnered 41.5 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting two weeks ago, compared with 36.5 percent for Jaroslaw Kaczynski of the Law & Justice Party. Some opinion polls this week showed the race had narrowed and was too close to call. By 5 p.m., 42.1 percent of voters had cast ballots, more than at the same hour in the June 20 first round. Voting ends at 8 p.m., when the first exit polls will be announced
A win for Komorowski, 58, would end a rift with the cabinet that arose under the late President Lech Kaczynski and help Tusk trim a budget deficit that widened to 7.1 percent of gross domestic product last year, more than twice the European Union limit. Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw’s twin brother, died in an April 10 plane crash in Russia.
“It seems quite easy to predict what will happen under a Komorowski presidency: He will cooperate with the government and they will start reforms,” said Olgierd Annusewicz, a political scientist at Warsaw University. If Kaczynski wins, the government will “need to find ways of passing new legislation despite a quite difficult political constellation.”
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 61, performed better than opinion polls forecast in the first round of voting. The mean of 17 polls taken in the three weeks before the June 20 vote predicted an 11 percentage point margin of victory for Komorowski, compared with the 5-point spread in the final result.
Civic Platform and Law & Justice have clashed for five years. Lech Kaczynski unexpectedly won the presidency over Tusk in 2005. Two years later, Tusk’s party took control of parliament after Law & Justice lost its mandate. Since then, Civic Platform has said its efforts to modernize Poland were blocked by Lech Kaczynski.
The president represents Poland abroad, is head of the army and can veto legislation. Overriding a veto requires a three- fifths majority in parliament.
Lech Kaczynski died when a plane carrying many of Poland’s top civilian and military officials crashed outside Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 people on board. They were on their way to honor 22,000 Polish prisoners of war killed by Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest in 1940.
Urban, Rural Split
Jaroslaw Kaczynski is strongest in rural areas and eastern Poland, where unemployment rates are higher than the national average of 11.9 percent and many residents say they haven’t shared in the benefits of EU membership. Komorowski does better among urban voters and those in western parts of the country.
In the first round of voting, Kaczynski outpolled Komorowski 45.3 percent to 31.0 percent in rural districts. By contrast, Komorowski received 46.0 percent in urban areas to Kaczynski’s 31.8 percent.
Law & Justice last year called for increased spending to offset the impact of the global economic crisis. Kaczynski has campaigned to raise benefits for older people and boost the minimum salary.
“Poland has to be fair to every Pole,” Kaczynski said June 24 in the southeastern city of Rzeszow. Civic Platform intends to “make richer regions that are already rich,” he said.
While Kaczynski has opposed setting a deadline for joining the euro, Komorowski said June 14 that Poland needs a target date to “create pressure” for meeting the fiscal requirements of membership.
Tusk’s government has proposed limiting increases in discretionary spending to no more than 1 percent above inflation, saving an estimated 9 billion zloty ($2.7 billion) a year by 2013. That will help narrow the deficit to less than the EU limit of 3 percent of GDP within three years, Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski said June 11.
Twenty-five percent of Kaczynski’s supporters favored adopting the euro, compared with 68 percent of those who backed Komorowski, according to an April survey of 1,056 people by Warsaw-based researcher CBOS.
“I’ve got well-off children and grandchildren who are studying,” said Miroslaw Zietek, a 68-year-old pensioner from Bydgoszcz, about 220 kilometers (137 miles) northwest of Warsaw. “I want to live in a country that belongs to Europe, has modern economy and reasonable government.”