Poles poised to pass verdict on twins' 'moral revolution'

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The Independent Online

After two years on the rollercoaster of Poland's "moral revolution" , with the Kaczynski twins in the drivers' seats, Maria Czarniawska hopes her compatriots are about to stop the ride in tomorrow's general election.

Opinion polls show the Law and Justice Party (PiS) of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, one half of the ruling double act, between four and 12 per cent behind Civic Platform of the opposition leader Donald Tusk.

For Ms Czarniawska, the elections, called after the collapse of the Prime Minister's last coalition in a row over a corruption investigation, cannot come soon enough. "Jaroslaw Kaczynski promised to sort out Poland and make it a better place to live, but he hasn't," the Warsaw office worker said. "He talks about stopping corruption and helping the poor, but all we've had is chaos and arguments."

After briefly tasting fame as child actors and spending years as political outsiders, the Kaczynski twins became Poland's most powerful men in late 2005. That was the moment when Jaroslaw guided PiS into government and Lech secured the presidency on a pledge to crush corruption, redistribute wealth, and smash a shadowy network of former Communists that the twins claimed controlled the country's politics, business, media and security services.

Two years on, the twins claim to be fulfilling those promises, as well as helping the economy grow at 6 per cent a year and winning international respect for Poland through robust dealings with the European Union and Warsaw's historical foes, Russia and Germany.

Nonsense, say critics who call the Kaczynskis reactionary megalomaniacs who have wasted time settling scores at home and abroad rather than energising Poland with long-overdue reforms that would persuade its people to stop heading west to find work.

"Two million Poles chose a liberal economy in the two years that you have been in power. Unfortunately, it was in the UK, Ireland, Spain and the Netherlands," Mr Tusk said as he went on the attack in a feisty pre-election debate. "And after two years of your government, we have the worst relations with Russia and Germany, which is a result of the incompetence of your diplomacy."

Mr Tusk's verbal battering of a poorly prepared and clearly flustered Kaczynski sparked a surge in poll ratings for Civic Platform, which favours liberal economic reforms and rejects the twins' aggressive foreign policy and stifling, ultra-Catholic moral conservatism.

"Kaczynski lives with his mum and his cats and doesn't have a bank account or a driving licence. How can he lead a Poland that has millions of citizens flying abroad to live and work, speaking foreign languages and being part of the modern world?" said Jarek, a Warsaw student, reeling off well known facts about the Prime Minister. Jarek declined to give his last name, suspecting that "they'll read this and put me on a blacklist".

He said it with a laugh, but the Kaczynskis have always been prone to suspicion. When Lech Walesa was Poland's President in the early 1990s, he sacked his old allies from the Solidarity movement, having grown sick of their constant paranoia. Around the same time, a national newspaper poll declared Jaroslaw his country's "biggest political loony", beating Lech into second place.

The twins never forgave Mr Walesa for failing to purge former Communists from public life, and made the task their priority, passing a law to vet 700,000 Poles for evidence of collaboration with the Communist secret police. When the constitutional court struck down the law, the twins pushed ahead with an anti-corruption agency that critics say is targeting political enemies, including Civic Platform.

"Leaders that break the principles of democracy and decency against the opposition during a campaign lose elections in Poland," Mr Tusk said, comparing Jaroslaw Kaczynski to the loathed Communists who banned Solidarity – of which Mr Tusk was also a member.

While anathema to most young Poles, suspicion of former Communists and fear of Germany and Russia is rife among the older voters who constitute the twins' power base.

Born into a post-war Warsaw flattened by the Nazis and then occupied by the Soviets, the twins were raised on heroic tales of Polish resistance to its mighty neighbours. Their mother remembers them singing the national anthem each night after saying their prayers.

Patriotism and piety are two of their strongest cards, and the pair goad Berlin and Moscow while cosying up to Radio Maryja. They hope this hugely popular Catholic fundamentalist radio station will guide voters from the church pews to the ballot box tomorrow.

But if Mr Tusk does oust the prime ministerial twin, he will swiftly find himself locked in a battle with the presidential one. A Tusk government would struggle to gain the 60 per cent majority needed to override the presidential veto on new legislation. Lech is not likely to be in conciliatory mood towards someone who has just pulped his brother – and his term does not end until 2010.