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Poland: Heirs Of Solidarity Defeat Ruling Left In Parliamentary Elections

Preliminary official results from the 25 September parliamentary elections in Poland show two center-right political parties easily defeating the leftists in the governing Democratic Left Alliance. Early returns suggest it is the biggest victory for the heirs of the Solidarity movement in any of Poland's five elections since the collapse of communism in 1989. Experts say the Law and Justice party and its pro-business allies in the Civic Platform are likely to control more than 300 seats in the 460-member lower house of parliament. But divisions between the two parties could make for tough coalition talks. RFE/RL looks at how the results are expected to influence Poland's policies on EU integration, as well as relations with Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

Prague, 26 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Sunday's parliamentary election victory for Poland's two center-right parties gives the heirs to the pro-democracy Solidarity movement a clear mandate for their reform programs.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, one of the twin brothers who lead the Law and Justice party, is expected to become Poland's next prime minister. He says the 28 percent of voters who supported Law and Justice means more than a victory for his party. He says the results show that the Polish people are strongly behind his party's political program.

"Those who supported changes -- who support changes -- turned out to be a decisive majority. A very decisive majority," Kaczynski said.

But even as Law and Justice celebrated today with its pro-business allies in the Civic Platform, the two parties were positioning themselves for what some experts see as difficult coalition talks.

The Civic Platform won 24 to 26 percent of the vote -- making it the junior partner in a coalition with Law and Justice. There are divisions between the two parties over the scope of market reforms that should be carried out.

Law and Justice is seen as being more skeptical about quickly adopting the "euro" as the currency of Poland -- a new member of the European Union.

Western market analysts say they doubt whether Law and Justice will have the determination to cut back on bloated public spending -- the main obstacle to euro zone entry. Law and Justice also has vowed to protect a "social market economy" -- reflecting an EU-wide debate on how much welfare the EU can afford.

But Donald Tusk, a leader of the Civic Platform, says his party will stand by its campaign promises to accelerate free market reforms.

"We will not turn away from our dreams, our ideas. To everyone in Poland who trusted in our plans, our projects for the Republic [of Poland] -- I say keep on trusting. We will stand by our beliefs. You will not be alone. We will still be fighting for Poland to be in accordance with our dreams. I promise you this," Tusk said.

Still, the two center-right parties have more in common than their Solidarity roots. Both have promised to cut unemployment in Poland, which is the highest within the EU at 18 percent. They also have vowed to cut taxes and fight against the kind of corruption that tainted the four-year-rule of the outgoing Democratic Left Alliance.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his brother Lech Kaczynski stirred up controversy during the campaign with tough language on neighboring Germany and Russia.

But Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski, a professor of sociology at the Institute of Political Studies in Warsaw, told RFE/RL today that a tougher position from Warsaw could improve relations with Russia.

"With regard to Russia, I think the relations can be improved because Russians respect more those who have a clearly different political view and [are] tough partners. Certainly, both leaders of the two parties that won the [Polish] elections declared in the electoral campaign that relations with Russia are of vital importance. But Poland is a part of the European Union. And through the European Union, we would like to settle the correct relations with Russia," Wnuk-Lipinski says.

Wnuk-Lipinski says Ukrainians can continue to count on Polish support for democratic change and the development of a civil society in Ukraine. He says that's because Warsaw's foreign policy makers regard Poland as being safer when Ukraine is independent of Russian influence.

He also said he expects Poland to try to help the opposition in Belarus.

"With regard to Belarus, certainly those two parties [that won the Polish elections] will try to help somehow those forces in Belarus that may push the country to a more democratic solution. The election -- the presidential election [in Belarus] -- is coming," Wnuk-Lipinski says. "So we may expect quite open support [from Poland] for the opposition in Belarus. The two parties that won the elections [in Poland] are strongly in favor of organizing, at least, a radio broadcast to Belarus to get Belarusians more informed about what is going on in the world and in their own country as well."

Wnuk-Lipinski also says he expects the Law and Justice party to try to introduce more unity between the EU's core countries and newer members.

He says Kaczynski thinks European solidarity should be stronger, but also thinks the middle-sized and smaller countries of the EU should have more say in European affairs and European Union policies.

For the outgoing Democratic Left Alliance, the results from Sunday's vote appear to be disastrous. The leftists are set to see their strength reduced from 217 seats to about 50 deputies in the lower house. That marks the lowest point for the left since it was created in 1990 by reformed communists.