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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » January 13, 2010
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Race for President Heats Up
January 13, 2010 By W.Ż.    
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The presidential elections in the fall, which will likely prove to be the biggest political event of 2010, could see the Civic Platform (PO) strengthen its grip on power to a degree that no other party in Poland has managed over the past two decades.

All the signs are that the incumbent president, Lech Kaczyński, hailing from the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party chaired by his twin brother Jarosław, stands no chance of being reelected. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, head of the PO, the senior party in the ruling coalition, looks certain to become the next head of state. Admittedly, Tusk has not yet officially announced that he will run and some members of his Civic Platform have been openly saying that the PO, which is way ahead in the polls, may put forward another candidate, such as Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski or Bronisław Komorowski, the speaker of the lower house of parliament. But few believe that Tusk would want to miss an opportunity to make up for his unexpected defeat at the hands of Lech Kaczyński in the 2005 presidential elections. The high-profile political head-to-head between Tusk and Kaczyński looks certain to eclipse the election campaigns of other candidates, including those of left-winger Jerzy Szmajdziński, a long-standing senior Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) politician, and Andrzej Olechowski, backed by the Democratic Party (SD), who was foreign and finance minister in several governments during the 1990s.

At a press conference in late December Tusk said he would make up his mind as to whether or not he will run in the elections "still this winter."

Meanwhile, polls show that if the party put forward a different candidate-Sikorski, Komorowski, or Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parliament-each of the three could expect to win.

Polls show that Kaczyński's ratings are so low that he would even lose if he had to compete against another PO politician instead of Tusk. He would also lose against an independent candidate or someone from the left wing, commentators say.

Despite rumors that Kaczyński might not be seeking reelection, few believe he would give up his job without a fight. Contrary to media speculation, PiS says it does not intend to hold any internal vote to pick a presidential candidate.

PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński ruled out such a possibility in the middle of last year with a sharp remark after a poll gave higher ratings to Zbigniew Ziobro, a former justice minister and now a member of the European Parliament. PiS says it is building a campaign staff for Kaczyński that-alongside Michał Kamiński and Adam Bielan, the architects of the incumbent's 2005 victory-will include former finance minister Zyta Gilowska, once a prominent member of the PO.

Meanwhile, the SLD's Szmajdziński, a former defense minister and deputy speaker of the lower house, has around 1 percent support in the polls, and party leaders say they have yet to decide if he is the best man to join the presidential race. Szmajdziński's supporters at the party's recent election convention included ex-president Aleksander Kwaśniewski, SLD chairman Grzegorz Napieralski, and erstwhile leaders Leszek Miller and Józef Oleksy.

Miller and Oleksy took the opportunity to announce their return to the SLD after a few years outside the party. During the convention, old and young left-wingers manifested their unity, but observers and politicians from other parties are skeptical about the SLD's chances of winning the presidency and regaining power in the near future.

The SLD has under 15 percent support in the polls and the only leftist politician with a chance of winning 20-25 percent of the vote in the presidential elections is ex-prime minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, currently an independent senator. Cimoszewicz, however, has ruled out joining the race.

Other leftist contenders include Tomasz Nałęcz, a former deputy lower house speaker supported by the Polish Social Democratic Party (SdPl) and the demokraci.pl party. Nałęcz made the headlines after a billboard showed him next to U.S. President Barack Obama with a sign saying, "Had he trusted the polls, he wouldn't have run."

Despite his disastrously low ratings, Nałęcz has called for a series of debates between the presidential contenders and has also proposed a preliminary election to pick out one leftist candidate. His appeals have met with little response so far.

Olechowski, who was one of the founders of the PO and a former leader of the party, will officially run as an independent candidate even though he has been supported by the Democratic Party (SD). The SD's leader, Paweł Piskorski, used to be a prominent member of the PO before he was expelled from the party following accusations of involvement in financial irregularities. Experts say the SD has considerable funds that could be used to finance Olechowski's campaign.

Olechowski also ran in the 2000 presidential elections when he came in second behind Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who secured reelection in the first round.

Other contenders with negligible support include Kornel Morawiecki, the founder and leader of Solidarność Walcząca (Fighting Solidarity), a no-longer-existing group that was frequently described as the most radical opposition organization in communist Poland. A physicist by education, Morawiecki founded Solidarność Walcząca in 1982 and made history as the longest-hiding opposition activist. He has never played any significant role in politics since communism fell in this country in 1989.
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