Polish opposition claims election victory

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The Independent Online

Poland's opposition leader Donald Tusk claimed a commanding election victory over Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski last night, ending two years of chaotic government and regular scraps with foreign partners.

Mr Kaczynski – whose identical twin Lech is Poland's president – admitted defeat after exit polls showed their Law and Justice party (PiS) had taken about 30.4 per cent of votes, well behind Civic Platform's 43.7 per cent.

The only other parties to win entry into parliament, according to the polls, were the Left and Democrats group with 13.3 per cent of votes, and the Polish Peasants Party with 8.4 per cent.

Mr Tusk's pledge to deliver an "economic miracle" to Poland, withdraw its troops from Iraq, and end Mr Kaczynski's hounding of ex-communists at home and prickly relations abroad, appeared to have brought a larger-than-expected victory, and his packed campaign headquarters erupted in celebration when the exit polls were made public.

"It was a battle. We won it. But tomorrow we need to get down to work," Mr Tusk told cheering supporters. "It is Civic Platform's intention to make Poles feel much better in their homeland. We are going to do huge work and we will do it well. You have the right to rejoice today."

Turnout in the election – called two years early after the last coalition collapsed over a corruption inquiry – was estimated at over 55 per cent. Barely 40 per cent of voters cast their ballots in 2005, a factor that favoured Mr Kaczynski's Law and Justice Party.

Mr Tusk bemoaned the "longest wait of [my] life" as exit polls were delayed by extended voting in several polling stations that ran out of ballots. He also thanked Polish voters in other countries, including the 70,000 who registered in Britain and Ireland.

"Thanks to everyone abroad – in Spain they hired a bus to go from Toledo to Madrid, in London they stood in line for hours, and they knew why," he said.

Mr Kaczynski complained that his party had "not managed to succeed against an unprecedentedly broad front of attacks."

"We'll be a determined opposition," he said. "And we'll keep a close eye on the Platform and its promises."

The exit polls suggest Civic Platform will have to form a coalition to amass the 60 per cent of the 460 seats in the lower house of parliament needed to override a veto on legislation wielded by Lech Kaczynski, whose presidential term runs until 2010.

When asked about working with Mr Tusk, the head of state warned: "It would be a government of difficult cohabitation."

Civic Platform's most likely coalition partner would be the Polish Peasants Party, a moderate, pro-EU group whose popularity in rural regions would complement Mr Tusk's urban power base and counter criticism that he has no concern for the needs of Poland's powerful farmers.

The two parties already co-operate successfully at a local level.

Mr Tusk has also refused to rule out an alliance with the Left and Democrats, a newly-formed party led by popular former president Aleksander Kwasniewski, which shares Civic Platform's pro-business policies.

Such an alliance would draw fierce criticism from the Kaczynskis and their supporters, who see former communist youth leader Mr Kwasniewski as the embodiment of an elite that the twins have vowed to destroy.