Leading article: A worrying signal from eastern Europe

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The Independent Online

Last month, the conservative Justice and Law party won parliamentary elections when voters, understandably, ejected a government of former Communists discredited by sleaze and a failure to tackle crippling levels of unemployment. Now the leader of the Justice and Law party, Lech Kaczynski, one half of a set of identical twins who became famous in Poland as child film actors in the 1960s, has emerged as the next President.

But the double victory for the Kaczynski twins (Lech's brother Jaroslaw will probably hold an influential role in a new centre-right coalition) appears to take Poland backwards. The new President's election rhetoric was flecked with nationalistic, xenophobic and anti-German sentiment. He is a Eurosceptic, and favours the death penalty, and as mayor of Warsaw banned gay pride events even as he allowed far-right marches to proceed.

It is not just his Catholic conservatism and unreconstructed social attitudes that are at odds with the liberal progressive values expected of a modern EU member government. This election was in some ways a plebiscite on the economic future of Poland, with Mr Kaczynski promising to hold back the tide of market reform and to use state spending instead to create jobs. His rival in Sunday's run-off, Donald Tusk, of the Centre-Right Civic Platform, had by contrast promised a 15 per cent flat tax, and pledged to step up the pace of reform.

Fortunately, Mr Kaczynski's party will have to form a coalition with the Civic Platform party, and while this will not be an easy cohabitation, Justice and Law will probably have to embrace more market reform than it has thus far been willing to countenance.

Yet the choice made by Polish voters shows that they - like the French, Dutch and Germans - are not finding it easy to come to terms with globalisation. For many, particularly in the economically underdeveloped eastern half of Poland, it is the structural reform and economic modernisation that they are told they must embrace, which are to blame for joblessness and poverty. This election result should serve as a reminder of how difficult economic reform in Europe will continue to be.

The powers of the President are limited, so it is unlikely Mr Kaczynski will be allowed to reintroduce the death penalty or impose his narrow interpretation of Christianity on Poland. But he does hold the power to blunt the economic reform agenda so vital to growth and job creation - and his administration is likely to have a populist and unsavoury edge.