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Poland’s Small Towns Back Kaczynski as EU Boom Passes Them

Poland's small towns back Kaczynski
Former prime minister of Poland Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Photographer: John Guillemin/Bloomberg

The 5:02 a.m. train to Warsaw is packed every day with Radom residents who travel 100 kilometers (62 miles) to work because factory jobs in their hometown vanished with plant closures in the late 1990s.

Szczepan Iskierka, the father of two such commuters, plans to back Jaroslaw Kaczynski in the July 4 presidential election because he says the former prime minister will fight for his sons. Kaczynski, 61, is the leader of Poland’s biggest opposition party, Law & Justice, and the brother of the late President Lech Kaczynski who died in an April 10 plane crash.

“The government boasts Poland was the only one to escape recession last year, but Radom surely was left behind so my two sons spend 4 1/2 hours on the train every day,” said Iskierka, a 56-year-old pensioner. “When will someone bring an investor to Radom? It can only be a man who understands ordinary Poles and is concerned about the common good, like Kaczynski.”

Kaczynski’s better-than-expected performance in the first round of voting two weeks ago raised investor concern that his eventual victory would block budget cuts needed to bring the deficit in line with European Union limits. His chances in the runoff rest on places like Radom, where the unemployment rate was 21.8 percent in April, almost double the national average.

Acting President Bronislaw Komorowski, 58, the candidate of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform, won 41.5 percent of the vote on June 20, compared with 36.5 percent for Kaczynski. The mean of 17 polls in the three weeks before the election forecast the margin of victory at 11 percentage points.

The race may have tightened further, with two surveys published today showing the race too close to call.

Protecting Poor

Poland’s budget deficit swelled to 7.1 percent of gross domestic product last year, more than double the EU limit of 3 percent, as slowing a slowing economy cut tax revenue and the government increased spending to stimulate growth. The economy expanded 1.7 percent in 2009, the slowest in almost a decade.

“The Platform is incapable of dealing with the crisis so it’s going to cut the budget at the expense of the poorest people as there is no one to protect them,” said Grazyna Wernio a 49-year-old news agent from Radom. “That’s why Kaczynski must become president to stand up for us.”

A Komorowski victory would unite the presidency and prime minister’s office under Civic Platform, reducing the risk of a veto as the government seeks to control spending and sell assets to raise as much as $10 billion this year. Tusk’s government has said 2015 is a “realistic” date for adopting the euro.

The EU plans to fine countries that fail to meet deficit-cutting pledges after Greece’s budget gap widened to 13 percent of GDP, undermining confidence in the euro.

‘Strong Public Finances’

Jaroslaw Lenkajtis, a 27-year-old computer specialist from Pila, a city of about 80,000 in northwestern Poland, said he plans to vote for Komorowski.

“Even the government has realized that without reforms we will end up like the Greeks,” he said. “I’ve got a mortgage in Swiss francs, so I care about strong public finances.”

The zloty has fallen 2.1 percent against the euro since the first round of the election, making it the worst performing currency in eastern Europe.

The two candidates typify the split between what sociologists call Poland A and Poland B.

Poland A is made up of the cities and western parts of the country, which have benefited most since the country joined the EU in 2004. Poland B comprises rural areas and the eastern part of the country, where many people feel they were left behind after the collapse of communism.

Rural Versus Urban

Komorowski outpolled Kaczynski 46.0 percent to 31.8 percent in urban areas during the first round. Kaczynski garnered 45.3 percent of the vote in rural districts, compared with 31.0 percent for Komorowski.

About 52 percent of those with university degrees supported Komorowski versus 18 percent for Kaczynski, according to a June 17 poll by Warsaw-based researcher CBOS. By contrast, 40 percent of voters without specific job qualifications backed Kaczynski, compared with 32 percent for Komorowski. The survey of 997 people had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

“Since the Platform came to power only capitalism and liberalism matter,” said Czeslaw Lubacz, 62, who more than a decade ago lost his job at Radom-based Radoskor, Poland’s largest shoemaker before it went bankrupt in 1999. “Nobody cares that the post-Communist transition had costs that someone had to bear. We accepted it hoping for better future, but does anybody remember about this?”

Anita Pesta, a 22-year-old law student from Warsaw, is concerned Kaczynski will hinder the government’s effort to push through austerity measures needed to help the economy.

“All he cares about are political games and the past, while there is an economic crisis now and we need someone with a strong feeling of responsibility who will not damage the economy,” she said. “We are part of the economy and it concerns all of us.”

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