Poles begin voting in tight presidential run-off

Poles choose a new president on Sunday in an election run-off.

Warsaw: Poles began voting on Sunday in a Presidential Election run-off that will help decide the speed and scale of economic reforms and set the tone for Warsaw`s ties with its European Union partners and with Russia.

Billed as Poland`s strangest election since the fall of communism in 1989, it was called after the death of President Lech Kaczynski and many other top officials in a plane crash in Russia on April 10.

The election pits Kaczynski`s twin brother Jaroslaw, the combative eurosceptic leader of the main right-wing opposition party, against Bronislaw Komorowski, candidate of Poland`s ruling pro-business Civic Platform (PO).

Most opinion polls have predicted a Komorowski victory but usually underestimate the amount of support for Kaczynski, who has been narrowing the gap in recent weeks and lagged by just five percentage points in a first round of voting on June 20.

A final slew of polls published on Friday, the last day of campaigning, showed the candidates level pegging or Komorowski with a small lead.

In Poland, the government led by the prime minister sets policy, but the president can propose and veto laws, appoints many key officials and has a say in foreign and security policy.

Polling stations opened at 6 am and were due to close at 8 pm. Exit polls showing the final estimated results will be published as soon as voting ends.

Around 30 million Poles in a total population of 38 million are eligible to vote. Turnout in the first round was 54 percent.

Market fears

Financial markets favour a Komorowski presidency, expecting him to work smoothly with Prime Minister Donald Tusk`s market-oriented government as it tries to rein in a big budget deficit while keeping a fragile economic recovery on track.

"Only cooperation can guarantee that money will be spent rationally, only cooperation can guarantee that Poland will take the path of development," Komorowski said on Friday.

Investors fear that Kaczynski, who opposes cuts in public spending and privatisation, would use his presidential veto to block reforms, just as his brother Lech did before his death.

Economists say the zloty and government bonds would weaken, though not too sharply, in the event of a Kaczynski victory.

Kaczynski, known in the past for his acerbic nationalist rhetoric, has struck a conciliatory tone on the campaign trail in a bid to win over middle-of-the-road voters.

Bureau Report

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