Tue, Oct 23, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Liberals trounce Polish twins' conservatives


Poland's liberal opposition pledged a new pro-business, Europe-friendly government yesterday after trouncing the Kaczynski twins' ruling conservative alliance in a snap election.

With 90 percent of ballots counted, opposition leader Donald Tusk's Platforma Obywatelska (PO) won a projected 208 seats in parliament, routing the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party of Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his identical twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, with 164.

"I thank everyone who, in an impartial way, has helped restore hope among Poles," Tusk, 50, told cheering supporters at his campaign headquarters.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso hailed "the European spirit of the Polish people," following the liberals' victory, underscoring "the importance of Poland's contribution to the European Union," a spokesman said.

Tusk has vowed to bring home 900 Polish troops serving in Iraq as soon as possible.

He has also promised to cut taxes to stoke the already red-hot economy and lure home the more than 1 million Poles who have moved to Britain and Ireland seeking jobs.

Expatriates as well as young, urban, centrist voters in Poland turned out in droves to end the Kaczynski duo's two-year grip on power. Participation reached almost 54 percent -- the highest level since the communists' fall in 1989.

"The heavy turnout in the cities killed us," PiS strategist Jacek Kurski told news channel TVN24 yesterday.

However, the PO fell short of its goal of a ruling majority and was expected to form a coalition with the moderate, rural-based Polish Peasants' Party, which won an estimated 35 seats.

The parliamentary election was called two years early because of the collapse of PiS' three-party coalition in August. Its erstwhile far-right and populist allies were swept from parliament.

Former president Lech Walesa, the Gdansk shipyard electrician who led the communist-era opposition trade union Solidarity, blasted two "scandalous" years of governance under the twins.

"We have rescued our honor," he told TVN 24. "Now we will polish our image."

While Lech Kaczynski still has three years to go in his presidential term, the poll abruptly ended the brothers' concentration of power and was likely to meet with sighs of relief in many European capitals.

The PO had accused the often combative Kaczynskis of damaging Poland's image by straining ties with Germany and the rest of the EU, notably over their fierce defense of national interests in the bloc's reform process. The 58-year-old brothers also clashed with NATO allies as well as Russia, most recently over their strong support for US plans to base part of a missile shield system in Poland.

A top PO official said the new government would adopt the EU charter of fundamental rights, which the conservatives opposed.

"It will be a modernizing government and very actively involved in the EU," said Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, president of the European Parliament's foreign policy committee and PO's main spokesman on EU issues. "So it will change Poland's stance on the treaty and thus will adhere to the charter of fundamental rights."

Final official results are expected today.

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