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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » June 17, 2010
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A Two-Horse Race
June 17, 2010   
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In the first round of the presidential election on June 20, Polish voters will choose from among 10 candidates. But opinion polls indicate only two contenders have a real shot at the presidency. They are likely to face off in the second round on July 4.

The deadline for submitting the documents to the State Election Committee needed for the registration of candidates expired on May 6 at midnight. Contenders had to present the signatures of at least 100,000 people backing them. The number of candidates who managed to collect the required number of signatures was larger than political commentators had expected—the committee registered 10.

Hit by tragedy
Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party and the twin brother of President Lech Kaczyński, who died in the Smolensk air crash April 10, had the largest number of signatures—almost 1.7 million. In contrast to other candidates, in the opening stages of the race for president, Jarosław Kaczyński conducted hardly any public campaigning, restricting himself to interviews published on the internet or in friendly newspapers. Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, head of Jarosław Kaczyński’s election campaign team, and Paweł Poncyliusz, spokesman for the team, said Kaczyński was still deeply hit by the family tragedy and was at the same time taking care of his 83-year-old mother, who was in hospital since the beginning of March and was still unaware of the death of her other son. Poncyliusz said Jarosław Kaczyński would make his first public appearance at the end of May, at which he would present his election platform during his party’s election convention.

PO man ahead
The second largest number of signatures—around 700,000—was collected by Bronisław Komorowski of the Civic Platform (PO) party, the Speaker of the lower house of parliament who, under the Polish constitution, had assumed the powers and duties of the head of state following the death of Lech Kaczyński. Komorowski is in top position in the opinion polls. Surprised by the absence of his main rival in the election campaign, Komorowski also kept a low-key presence at first. He stepped up the pace at the start of May when, as acting president, he signed into law the controversial bill on the National Remembrance Institute (IPN), regarded as an institution favorable to PiS. The bill had been strongly criticized by the opposition. Komorowski also convened a new National Security Council, which advises the president. The council is to be composed of former heads of government and leaders of the largest political parties.

Kaczyński and Komorowski did not rule out holding televised debates, but seemed to suggest that this could take place before the second round of the election. The remaining candidates want to take part in the debates as equals, but this seems unlikely. The candidates of the two largest parliamentary parties are so far ahead of the others in the polls that, in contrast to the presidential elections of 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2005, none of the remaining eight candidates seems to have any chance of making it to the second round or even of being backed by 10 percent of voters.

Of the eight candidates, Grzegorz Napieralski of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and Waldemar Pawlak of the Polish People’s Party (PSL), the junior partner in the ruling coalition, have the highest support. They are followed by Andrzej Lepper, former deputy prime minister and the leader of Samoobrona, a radical rural party, and Andrzej Olechowski, a former foreign minister and former finance minister and one of PO’s three founders, who is running for president as an independent candidate. Olechowski is supported by the Democratic Party, whose position in Polish politics is marginal.

The remaining candidates are likely to score results within the range of statistical error. They include Marek Jurek, a former parliamentary speaker, who quit PiS and set up a new party called the Right of the Republic; Janusz Korwin-Mikke, founder and long-serving leader of the radical right-wing Union for Realpolitik party; Kornel Morawiecki, founder of the Fighting Solidarity anti-communist underground organization in the communist period; and Bogusław Ziętek, leader of the Sierpień 80 trade union, who is known for numerous protest campaigns, including picketing the private homes of politicians of the ruling coalition or staging sit-ins in their parliamentary offices. Although the latter three candidates have for years stayed on the fringes of mainstream politics, they managed to collect the required 100,000 signatures each. But that does not mean they will manage to win the same or a higher amount of votes in the election. In a number of previous elections, fringe candidates were supported by under than 1 percent of the electorate.

Komorowski Sets the Pace
Bronisław Komorowski is set to win 49 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, according to the May 17 poll by SMG/KRC Millward Brown for the TVN 24 private television news channel. Jarosław Kaczyński is backed by 29 percent of those surveyed.

Grzegorz Napieralski, Andrzej Olechowski and Andrzej Lepper are each backed by 3 percent. Waldemar Pawlak is supported by 2 percent of those surveyed, Janusz Korwin-Mikke and Marek Jurek by 1 percent each while Kornel Morawiecki and Bogusław Ziętek by less than 1 percent.

In the second round, 58 percent of those polled would vote for Komorowski, 33 percent for Kaczyński while 7 percent were undecided. The turnout is expected to be 50 percent.
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