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Poland Ends Twins' Reign, Elects New Prime Minister

Donald Tusk, leader of Poland's Civic Platform, claims victory after Sunday's elections.
Janek Skarzynski
Donald Tusk, leader of Poland's Civic Platform, claims victory after Sunday's elections.

One of the twin brothers leading Poland was decisively rejected as prime minister Sunday, with voters favoring the party of Donald Tusk, incumbent Jaroslaw Kaczynski's opponent, by nearly 10 percentage points.

More voters cast ballots in Sunday's elections than in any other parliamentary election since the fall of communism 18 years ago.

There is now a whole new political landscape, which could include a possible review of Poland's troop deployment in Iraq. However, the twins are expected to remain a potent force.


The announcement that Tusk's Civic Platform party overwhelmingly beat Kaczynski's Law and Justice party was delayed by three hours. Precincts in Warsaw and Gdansk ran out of ballots after more voters than expected showed up.

Tusk finally addressed a crowd of supporters shortly before midnight last night.

"I'm the most happy person on earth today, not because after a big effort of many people we won — of course, that is satisfying — but I'm (the) most happy person on earth because today I met fellow Poles on the street, in the polling stations, who were smiling, who said with their eyes that tomorrow is going to be a better day," Tusk said.

Political analyst Bogdan Szklarski said the Kaczynski government's controversial tactics to root out corrupt officials and former communist collaborators will be changed.

Whether there is a thorough shift of policies will depend on whether Poles voted for Civic Platform or against Law and Justice, he said.


"If it is a support vote that's a very strong encouragement to cut taxes, to decentralize, (there will be) certainly a change in foreign policy. First, in terms of tone, in atmosphere, style in dealing with western European allies, but they cannot over do it because the Law and Justice is a strong opposition, and they will be waiting for any mistake," Szklarski said.

Kaczynski said little after his defeat. He promised supporters Law and Justice would be a tough opposition party, and he noted that, even though his party was defeated, it got a slightly higher share of Sunday's votes than when it won two years ago.

"We didn't make it, but we have to remember we got 5 million votes, twice as many as last elections," he said.

One of those votes came from Grzegorz Kowalski, a 52-year-old man who sells high quality winter coats at a market in Zyrardow. The 19th-century town was built around a famous linen factory, which went bankrupt after the fall of communism threw many people out of work.

Kowalski said his support for Kaczynski is unwavering and that he's glad the prime minister's twin brother, Lech, is still president. Lech Kaczynski's term lasts three more years.

Support for Law and Justice is strong in Zyrardow, where many people feel they have gotten the short end of the transition to capitalism.

But there are also backers of Tusk's Civic Platform. Piotr Jarota, 28, chose Civic Platform hoping for a change — particularly an end to the sharp disputes over Poland's position within the European Union.

"I don't know Civic Platform's program exactly, but its ideas are closest to mine," she said. "I was sick of Law and Justice and ashamed of its foreign policy and all the arguments and fights. I also think it became clear that Law and Justice was manipulating television to spread its own politics. I hope Civic Platform will behave differently."

But there may not be an about face.

Michal Karnowski, political commentator and biographer of the Kaczynski twins, pointed out that both Tusk and Kaczynski have their political roots in Solidarity, Lech Walesa's opposition union movement that helped overthrow communism in 1989.

He said Poland's main political divide still cuts between former Solidarity supporters and former communists.

Karnowski sees the conflicts during Law and Justice's two years in power as a feud in a family tree that did not tear out all the roots.

"These two years changed a lot of things, but for me, Tusk is very similar in certain part of ideas, opinions, to Kaczynski," he said.

One possible area of difference — the troops in Iraq.

Some in Tusk's party have called for Poland to bring home its 800 troops as soon as possible.

Several analysts predict that will lead to more talk than action, even in Poland's changing political landscape.

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