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Poland heads for early vote

Seeking to end months of political turmoil, Polish officials confirmed Sunday that the government will hold early elections by November, two years ahead of schedule.

The elections might open the way to a new coalition government led by the opposition Civic Platform, a center-right party that has advocated better relations with Germany and the EU, analysts said. With less than 10 weeks to campaign, the political parties will be seeking support from the center ground, particularly from young people, who, according to opinion polls, have become disillusioned with a swing to the far right and nationalist end of the political spectrum. Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced over the weekend the decision to hold an early vote after months of disagreements with his two small, radical coalition partners, the populist Self Defense party and the nationalist League of Polish Families. As a price for supporting Kaczynski, the two parties had made demands that included the introduction of the death penalty, a complete ban on abortion and more independence from the European Union.

Kaczynski, whose Law and Justice Party narrowly won the last elections in October 2005 and whose identical twin brother, Lech, is president, also has clashed with his ministers and senior advisers. Several of them had criticized the prime minister over allegations that he used prosecutors and the judiciary for surveillance in his campaign to stamp out corruption. But with his government lacking a parliamentary majority to continue, Kaczynski said he saw no alternative to holding early elections. “I see no possibility of supporting a minority government and we do not want to have the kind of government we have had recently,” he said at a news conference in Warsaw. On Saturday, Kaczynski told Roman Giertych, leader of the League of Polish Families, that he was breaking up the coalition and that ministers from his party and the Self Defense party would be dismissed Monday. Kaczynski had already fired Andrzej Lepper, the leader of Self Defense, from the posts of deputy prime minister and agriculture minister because of corruption charges.

The opposition Civic Platform, which narrowly lost the 2005 election, said Sunday that it was ready for the campaign. The party, led by Donald Tusk, would win 33 percent of the vote, according to the latest opinion polls, while Law and Justice would receive about 23 percent. Even at that, Civic Platform would require a coalition partner to establish a stable government. Civic Platform is, however, still divided over several policy issues. Officials said the party still had to agree on what kind of economic policy it wanted to pursue, on how it would improve its relations with the European Union and Germany and on what long-term policy it wanted with Russia.

The Kaczynski government has clashed with the European Union over privatization, environmental issues and particularly over the EU draft treaty, in which Poland wants more voting rights to prevent bigger countries, in particular Germany and France, from dominating the EU agenda. Relations between Poland and Germany, never close, deteriorated under the Kaczynski government. Despite several attempts by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to improve the atmosphere, Polish diplomats said Kaczynski remained highly suspicious of German intentions. In particular, Warsaw has repeatedly criticized German ties to Russia, especially the decision by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to help build a joint German-Russian natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. The pipeline would bypass Poland to provide a direct gas link between Russia and Germany.

The election will also test the new Left and Democrats - a loose gathering of center-left parties and the Democratic Left Alliance, the successor to the former Communist Party. The Left and Democrats is led by a former president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, who is considered one of the few politicians capable of rebuilding the left. However, Kwasniewski could face an uphill struggle in convincing the public of the credibility of the former Communists. They established a reputation for corruption, cronyism and fraud while governing until 2005, and were decimated in the 2005 election after Kaczynski ran a campaign promising to end corruption and to cut the ties between the economy and former Communists. Significantly, the leaders of the Left and Democrats have promised to fight corruption as part of their party program.

Kaczynski’s Law and Justice had tried to hold on to power as long as possible despite the turmoil inside the coalition. But analysts and opposition politicians said the prime minister had no choice but to call early elections. Law and Justice and the opposition Democratic Left Alliance were recently questioned by the State Electoral Commission for allegedly accepting donations that violate electoral law. Law and Justice is alleged to have accepted funds from foreigners, which is illegal. When those details became known last week, Kaczynski broke off a vacation and rushed back to Warsaw, promising to return any questionable donations. But the investigation caused some panic inside the party. “If Law and Justice has broken the electoral law, it could be deprived of state subsidies,” said Janusz Onyszkiewicz, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, which is part of the Left and Democrats movement. “The elections could be very difficult for the party.”

Kaczynski was also coming under pressure from his own ministers. Last week, Kaczynski fired one of his closest advisers, Interior Minister Janusz Kaczmarek, accusing him of leaking confidential documents related to an investigation concerning Lepper and the Agriculture Ministry. Kaczmarek fired back by accusing Kaczynski of using the public prosecutors for his own political goals.


(BBJ 13.viii.07)

 
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