Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of former president Lech Kaczynski who died in a plane crash in April, conceded defeat in Poland's snap presidential elections last night. Exit polls suggested that the liberal candidate, Bronislaw Komorowski, was on course to narrowly defeat his conservative rival.
Mr Kaczynski, the leader of Poland's right-wing opposition Law and Justice party (PiS), told cheering supporters: "I have to start by doing what good manners require, that is by congratulating the victor."
Mr Komorowski, who is a member of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk's ruling Civic Platform party, was between two and six per cent ahead of Mr Kaczynski, according to early exit polls. Official results are due to be published today.
"Democracy has won – our Polish democracy," declared Mr Komorowski to jubilant supporters last night. "We will open a small bottle of champagne tonight and a big one tomorrow," he added, in a reference to the final election result.
The closely fought election was called in the aftermath of last April's catastrophic air disaster in which President Lech Kaczynski was killed along with his wife and 94 political and military leaders when their plane crashed in western Russia. The party had been on its way to a memorial ceremony for the World War II Katyn massacre.
Mr Komorowski's victory is expected to put Poland on a more liberal, pro-business course than had been the case during Lech Kaczynski's tenure. Mr Komorowski has said he intends to build on Poland's EU membership plans to introduce the euro within five years. He has also called for the withdrawal of Poland's 2,600 troops from Afghanistan by 2012.
Mr Kaczynski announced he would try and succeed his late brother soon after the air disaster when Poland was still in a state of shock and national mourning over its worst political tragedy since the fall of communism.
Disliked by liberals for his opposition to abortion and gay rights and his hostility towards Germany, Russia and the EU, Jaroslaw Kaczynski was ousted as Polish prime minister in the country's 2007 general election and replaced by Mr Tusk. However, his conservative brother continued as president.
Jaroslaw Kaczynksi benefited from public sympathy for his family in the aftermath of the crash and made a strong comeback in the presidential race. He reinvented himself as a unifying future president who would protect the poor from the tough economic policies of his liberal rivals. One of Mr Kaczynski's last political coups prior to the election was to be received by David Cameron, a conservative colleague, days before the polls opened. The first round of the presidential election, on 20 June, was too close to be conclusive thereby triggering yesterday's run-off vote.
Like his opponent, Mr Komorowski was a member of the outlawed Solidarity trade union and took part in anti- government rallies during communist rule. He was arrested several times for his dissident activities and sent to an internment camp during martial law.
As speaker of the Polish parliament he was appointed interim president in the aftermath of the air disaster.