Briefing: A million expat Poles 'an issue' in this election

Two years ago, Poles in Britain had two polling stations where they could vote in the Polish elections: 6,000 did so. For today's elections, there are 20
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The Independent Online

Election fever in Britain? I thought Gordon Brown called it off?

No, we are talking about Poles living in Britain – between 850,000 and 1.2 million, depending on who you believe. Today Poland is voting in a snap election, and there has been heavy campaigning for the expatriate vote. Donald Tusk, leader of the opposition Civic Platform, came over to seek support wherever he could find Polish workers, including Fife, where he addressed a rally, and the Tesco superstore in Hammersmith, London. Four political parties sent representatives here for a live debate on Polish Radio London. The Polish press has headlined it the "Battle for Britain".

Why are Poles going to the polls?

Unable to form a stable coalition, the Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski (whose twin brother Lech is Poland's President), decided to call another election only two years after the last one. Mr Tusk did well in a television debate against Jaroslaw, watched by nearly 10 million voters, boosting Civic Platform in the opinion polls. It could replace the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice Party as the largest grouping in parliament, but nobody expects it to gain a decisive majority.

So what's likely to happen?

Whatever the result, there will be protracted wrangling of the kind that has turned Poles off their politicians. Mr Tusk would probably seek to form a coalition with the Peasant Party, one of two smaller parties expected to hurdle the 5 per cent barrier to win seats in parliament. The other, the Left and Democrats, dislikes Civic Platform's pro-market policies. But Polish politics is bedevilled as much by personality as by policy differences: the main impetus for an anti-Law and Justice coalition would be dislike of the Kaczynskis. Even if Jaroslaw can't put together a majority, President Lech, whose term runs until 2010, could frustrate his brother's opponents by vetoing their legislation.

What about the voters over here?

According to a recent poll in Britain, Civic Platform has 50 per cent support, compared to only 13 or 14 per cent for the conservative, nationalistic Law and Justice Party. Hardly surprising, as Mr Tusk appeals to entrepreneurial Poles most likely to emigrate. The outflow to Britain is an issue in the election, with Civic Platform promising to create the kind of Poland that would lure the expatriates home. Although the Prime Minister has been able to point to rapid economic growth and a fall in unemployment, he fails to mention that Poles had to go abroad to find work.

What result do other countries want?

A lot of Europe would like to see the back of the Kaczynskis. Germany is fed up with their harking back to the Second World War, and, as last week's summit showed, Poland is the leader of the awkward squad in the EU. The brothers share more of a world view with George Bush: they have offered Poland as a base for his missile shield and controversially dispatched Polish troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

So there'll be a big turnout?

Er, no. Since the fall of communism, 62 per cent is the highest there has ever been. Janusz Wach, the Polish Consul General in London, says voter registration has been heavy here, and 20 polling stations have been set up. The aim is that no one should have to travel more than 80 miles to vote. But it is anyone's guess how many will take the trouble. In 2005, with only two polling stations, no more than 6,000 Poles bothered to vote.

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