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21 Jun, 2010 06:39

Poland elects president with heavy hearts

The first round of voting in Poland's Presidential election has failed to find a clear winner. Final results say the acting leader Bronislaw Komorowski fell just short of the 50 per cent needed for outright victory.

According to Poland's electoral commission Komorowski captured 41.5 per cent of the votes and his closest rival Jaroslaw Kaczynski garnered 36.5 per cent.

Now Komorowski is facing a run-off vote against the twin brother of the late president Lech Kaczynski.

The early vote was called after the tragic death of Lech Kaczynski in April.

Poland was galvanized by the death of their president and most of the country’s political elite in a plane crash near the Russian city of Smolensk.

“We lost several deputy ministers – these are the kind of people who are the real backbone of the state. They prepare decisions that we, ministers, announce. Particularly heavy losses are in parliament and in the army command. We lost 18 parliamentarians. In all this, the Polish state has actually worked smoothly,” said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

It is now hard to find any trace of political battling on the streets of Warsaw. It took RT’s crew some time even to find a candidates’ poster – glued to a grocery store window.

The only tangible reminders of the vote are the ever-present references to why it is happening.

Two months since the plane crash in Smolensk, flags still fly at half-mast at the presidential palace in Warsaw. The fact that this election is taking place now is a direct result of that tragedy, as originally it was meant to be this coming autumn.

The big question now is whether the disaster can somehow affect the early ballot’s result.

The answer is by no means clear-cut. Among the contenders is the late president’s twin, Jaroslaw, whose popularity surged after the tragedy, despite his previously unpopular brand of tough-talking nationalism.

Then there’s Bronislaw Komorowski – the acting president, who has been prone to policy contradiction, but finds favor with anyone wanting a move away from the Kaczynski era.

“The Kaczynski brothers were really out there to make enemies. Their politics were the politics of mistrust and conflict. I’m pretty sure that president Kaczynski – God bless his soul – would have lost his re-election bid,” believes Gazeta Wyborcza analyst Konstanty Geber. “All this works for Komorowski, who doesn’t have the caliber of a statesman. But this is exactly what works in his favor – the Poles don’t want another statesman taking the country on some kind of radical adventure.”

For voters, telling the frontrunners apart has been tricky when watching the TV debates – except, perhaps, on foreign policy.

“As an EU member, we must ensure that our co-operation with the US is effective. However, we mustn’t support all of Washington’s initiatives,” Bronislaw Komorowski said.

“NATO is the foundation of our security, and the US is the foundation of NATO. This cannot be disputed, just as our co-operation with Washington cannot,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski said.

There is no fundamental difference between the two candidates, says political columnist from Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, Konstanty Geber.

“The two issues on which they seem to disagree most is their enthusiasm for European integration – Kaczinki is distinctly less enthusiastic – and their support for public role of the Catholic Church, where Kaczinski is much more enthusiastic,” Geber told RT. “Broadly, however, the difference is in political style – Kazcinski is a radical politician and Komorowski is a candidate of compromise.”

Piotr Kaczynski, Research Fellow from the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels says in this election Bronislaw Komorowski “has a much better chance of gathering the votes of other candidates in the second round.” Even so he doesn’t expect a heated battle between the two candidates, because one of the candidates is eyeing a different post.

“The real objective for Jaroslaw Kaczynski is not to be elected but to prove to the public that he is able to gain major support for himself ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections where his eyes will be on getting back to power and becoming once again Prime Minister,” Piotr Kaczynski said.