Warsaw’s tough-talking mayor Mayor Lech Kaczynski claimed victory in Poland’s presidential runoff vote Sunday after exit polls showed he had the lead following a campaign in which he stressed traditional Catholic values and the need for welfare protection.
An exit poll for Polish public television showed Kaczynski leading with 52.8 percent to 47.2 percent over pro-market legislator Donald Tusk, who conceded defeat.
“Today I must tell myself I did not make it,” Tusk told glum supporters at his election headquarters.
Kaczynski had an even wider margin, with 53.5 percent to Tusk’s 46.5 percent in an exit poll for TVN24 private television. Partial returns were expected later Sunday and full results sometime Monday.
Kaczynski said the margin of victory seemed “to be enough.”
“There would have been no victory without those who supported me in the campaign” he told cheering supporters at the city’s Soviet-era Palace of Culture.
Both candidates were right of center, but Tusk was more oriented toward market economics and favored a flat tax. Kaczynski supported tax cuts, preferring the system under which high earners pay more and proposes tax breaks.
Kaczynski would become half of an extraordinary power team in Polish politics with his twin brother, Jaroslaw, who heads their Law and Justice party, which won parliamentary elections Sept. 25.
The two brothers, both former activists in the Solidarity union movement, won fame as child stars in a hit film, “Two Who Stole The Moon.” But their resemblance became a political handicap, pushing Jaroslaw to abandon his claim to become prime minister in favor of little known party official Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz.
Some voters said they would not choose Lech Kaczynski for fear of concentrating power in the hands of people from the same family. Even with Jaroslaw working behind the scenes, the two will set much of Poland’s political agenda. They have promised to fight political corruption, purge former communists from influential positions and preserve social welfare benefits for the less fortunate.
Kaczynski said he would leave his Law and Justice party. Although there’s no requirement that he do so, the president is regarded as above day to day politics, and outgoing President Aleksander Kwasniewski quit his party after being elected.
Kwasniewski, a former communist popular for his easy style, has served his maximum of two terms and could not run again.
Poland’s prime minister holds most executive power, but the president can propose and veto laws, commands the armed forces and represents the country abroad.
Out of Iraq?
The new president will play a critical role in deciding whether to stick with the outgoing government’s plan to pull Polish troops out of Iraq by early next year.
Both candidates have said little about the subject, but their parties have suggested Polish forces could stay longer if Washington promised more financial aid. Poland’s deployment of about 1,500 soldiers is deeply unpopular in the country.
The candidates’ personalities also played a role in the race, with the mild-mannered Tusk saying he wanted to play a unifying role, while the more aggressive Kaczynski talked tough about standing up to Russia and Germany and purging former communists from positions of power.
Kaczynski lagged Tusk in opinion polls immediate after the first election round two weeks ago, but he was boosted by an endorsement from a former candidate, anti-European Union populist Andrzej Lepper.