Polish election sees 'new' Solidarity return to power

Allies of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the opposition Law and Justice party, claimed victory last night after a survey of voters showed that his party had won 27.6 per cent of the vote.

That put the party just ahead of their rivals, the Civic Platform, who were thought to have scored 24.1 per cent - though the two parties were expected to form a coalition.

While the election is expected to usher in a change of political direction, it also underlines the capricious nature of the Polish electorate. In the 16 years since the fall of Communism, no Polish government has won re-election.

Five main parties fielded candidates but opinion polls had predicted that the two centre-right parties would together score more than 50 per cent of the vote.

EarlierJan Rokita, Civic Platform's candidate for prime minister, said the election would "mark the end of the post-Communist era". Among his party's proposals is a plan for a 15 per cent flat tax.

Mr Kaczynski said earlier yesterday: "Regardless of who will finally win this race between Law and Justice and the Civic Platform, the road to change will be open."

Law and Justice has campaigned for tax breaks and for government aid for the poor, while emphasising its commitment to the family and to Christian values. It is cool towards economic liberals, however, laying more emphasis on the role of the state.

Both centre-right parties have their origins in the Solidarnosc movement that prompted the overthrow of Communism in Poland. And, to add spice to the campaign, Mr Kaczynski's twin brother, Lech, is aiming to become president in separate elections next month, though Civic Platform's Donald Tusk is the clear favourite. The Kaczynski brothers opposed the Communist regime and were advisors to Solidarity.

Whatever the make-up of the new coalition, it faces a difficult task since many voters are disenchanted with the mixed results of free-market reforms undertaken since 1989.

The outgoing centre-left government has also been badly weakened by sleaze allegations and, in May last year, Leszek Miller resigned as prime minister to be succeeded by Marek Belka. He has since fallen out with the governing party and, last month, agreed to run as a candidate for a new group, the Democratic Party.

With a population of 39 million, Poland is by far the biggest of the 10 new members that joined the European Union last year, and its economy represents almost half of the new states' combined gross domestic product.

Economic growth has been healthy at 5.4 per cent in 2004 and a projected 3.3 per cent this year but unemployment remains high at 18 per cent. Critics of the outgoing government have also focused on its failure to tackle corruption, a key weakness in the post-Communist era.

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