Poland presidential race looks like heading to run-off

By bne IntelliNews June 21, 2010

bne -

Exit polls in Poland suggest the acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski, who took over after the death of President Lech Kaczynski, has won with 46% of the vote. But that is still short of the 50% needed for an outright win, making a run-off election likely on July 4.

With 94.3% of the vote counted, Komorowski beat Kaczynski's twin brother, Jaroslaw, into second place with 41.2% of the vote. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, just behind with 36.7% of the vote, is a former prime minister who was booted out of office three years ago when people became turned off by his allowing prosecutors to run wild trying, unsuccessfully, to validate his theory that the country was in the thrall of spies, criminals and bent politicians.

But his reputation as one of the least trusted politicians in the country changed on April 10 when a Polish government aeroplane crashed near the Russian city of Smolensk killing the president, his wife and 94 other officials and dignitaries, enabling him to mine the sympathy vote.

Komorowski, a member of the ruling Civic Platform party government of PM Donald Tusk, is an uncharismatic man, and his problem was how to conduct an aggressive campaign without falling afoul of the country's mood of sadness and introspection; Kaczynski on the other hand took full advantage of the new environment.

The other eight candidates who took part in the election will drop out of the running, leaving the top two in a straight run-off; the surprising third place candidate was Grzegorz Napieralski, the leader of the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance, who had about 14% support in the exit polls.

In the second round, Komorowski is expected to draw most of Napieralski's supporters as well as the backers of minor candidates like Waldemar Pawlak, leader of the Polish People's party, Civic Platform's junior coalition partners.

However, Lars Christensen of Danske Bank warns that Komorowski should not rely too heavily on these votes, so the second round of voting could be interesting. "Notably, Mr Napieralski has not yet said whether he will support Mr Komorowski or Mr Kaczyński, but rather he has said that he will 'consult his voters' on the issue of whom to support," he says. "One thing is clear: Mr Napieralski's support will not come for free and the question is whether his left-leaning party will demand something to support Mr Komorowski - e.g. consultation on new economic policy initiatives."

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