Poland braced to vote for new President

Presidential polls showed a tight race between Lech Kaczynski`s twin brother and other candidates.

Warsaw: Poland braced Saturday for an election forced by the death in an air crash of conservative President Lech Kaczynski, as polls showed a tight race between his twin brother and the governing liberals` candidate.

Ex-prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and liberal rival Bronislaw Komorowski pushed to the wire until a campaign blackout came into force at midnight Friday.

A flurry of final surveys suggested Sunday`s contest could be closer than previously forecast, with floating voters holding the key.

A range of polls gave Komorowski 45-54 percent, and Kaczynski 42-45 percent.

Liberals remember only too well how Lech Kaczynski came from behind to beat their candidate Donald Tusk -- now prime minister -- in the 2005 presidential election.

Lech Kaczynski perished on April 10 when his jet crashed in Smolensk, western Russia as it landed for a World War II commemoration. A total of 96 people died, among them his wife, senior politicians and the Polish military`s top brass.

Under the constitution, speaker of parliament Komorowski became acting president after the crash.

Still reeling, Poland was battered in May and June by the worst floods in decades which killed 24 and forced thousands from their homes.

Both disasters overshadowed the campaign.

"This election began with a tragedy. I hope it will end with a great success for Poland," Jaroslaw Kaczynski said at a final rally Friday.

The result is crucial because it could end -- or extend -- a logjam caused by wrangling between conservatives and liberals.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the twins` Law and Justice party, was premier in 2006-2007 but lost a general election to the liberal Civic Platform.

Law and Justice could still count on Lech Kaczynski, who used his presidential veto powers 18 times to block government legislation.

He had been been expected to stand in an autumn election but, with his popularity having slumped, was not expected to win a second term.

With an eye on core conservative voters -- who tend to be older, small-town or rural residents, in contrast with younger, urban liberals -- the twins battled to hold up welfare reforms and a new privatisation drive.

Tusk`s government notes that under its stewardship, Poland was the only member of the 27-nation EU to post economic growth last year.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 61, has struggled to shake off his divisive image, which Komorowski spotlighted at a rally.

"You have the choice between a politician who harbours resentment and grudges, and the future, with an optimistic vision of Poland," said Komorowski, who is 58.

Poles vote from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm Sunday (0400 to 1800 GMT).

Komorowski took 41.5 percent in a June 20 first round, short of the 50 percent required to win outright. Kaczynski scored 36.5 percent.

Left-wing Social Democrat Grzegorz Napieralski came third with an unexpectedly-high 13.7 percent, while seven other candidates all scored under two percent.

Both Komorowski and Kaczynski have since courted left-wing voters.

Polls show most will back Komorowski, partly due to antipathy towards Kaczynski, long known for broadsides against the left.

Kaczynski has pushed a pro-welfare message and even praised a past communist leader as a patriot.

The Social Democrats emerged from the communist party after its regime fell in 1989.

Law and Justice and Civic Platform share roots in from the anti-regime movement Solidarity, which Kaczynski tapped at a rally.

"Today`s choice is between cold neo-liberalism and a Poland based on solidarity, a Poland that is fair," he said.

But iconic former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa backs Komorowski.

"We and our children will pay for the wrong choice," he said Friday. "Consensus is as necessary as the air we breathe."

Sunday`s vote is a test before parliamentary polls in late 2011.

It will be watched closely elsewhere in the EU, which ex-communist Poland joined in 2004, because the Kaczynskis regularly clashed with fellow leaders.

Bureau Report