Sun, Sep 09, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Poland to hold parliamentary polls on Oct. 21

AP , WARSAW

Polish lawmakers cleared the way on Friday for an early election on Oct. 21, expected to be a close race between the nationalist, conservative governing party and a more business-friendly center-right rival.

The lower house of parliament voted overwhelmingly to dissolve itself -- cutting short its term by two years. That offers the EU's biggest new eastern member, also a US ally in Iraq and on Washington's missile defense plans, a way out of persistent political turmoil.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski -- the twin brother of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski -- then set Oct. 21 as the date for the election.

Lawmakers burst into applause and whistles when the 377-54 vote in favor of dissolving parliament was flashed on a screen in the chamber.

The prime minister expressed "joy" at the decision said the election would give voters a fresh chance to endorse what he portrays as his party's struggle to fight corruption.

"These elections will create the chance for Poland to decide whether it wants to continue on its path of transition, however difficult, or whether it wants to follow the path of the rule of oligarchy," he said.

Kaczynski has long argued that Poland was ruled by a corrupt network of ex-communists, former secret agents and corrupt businessmen after communism fell in 1989.

Polls point to a close election race between the two front-runners -- the prime minister's nationalist, socially conservative Law and Justice party, and Civic Platform, also conservative but with strongly pro-market views.

Ahead of the vote, Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk accused the government of failing to make good on a wide range of promises -- among them building highways, restructuring the ailing health sector and cutting administrative costs.

"Elections offer the chance for a new and better government," Tusk said.

Jerzy Szmajdzinski, of the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance, said Kaczynski's government, which has presided over increasing tensions with the EU, had "massacred" the nation's position on the international stage.

Poland has seen near continuous political instability since Law and Justice narrowly took power in 2005.

Since then, it has governed either as a minority administration or in a coalition with two small populist and Euro-skeptic parties -- the right-wing League of Polish Families and the agrarian-based Self-Defense.

That coalition collapsed last month, largely because of corruption allegations against the leader of one of the junior partners, Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper, who was the agriculture minister and a deputy prime minister.

Kaczynski then called for a snap election in hopes of strengthening his party's parliamentary hold and ending the paralysis.

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