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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Identical twins lead polls in Poland


The identical twins first entered the spotlight as child actors playing a pair of rascals who mend their naughty ways. Now, the Kaczynski brothers are promising to solve the nation's problems with a return to clean government and traditional morality.

Not much distinguishes this power pair of Polish politics, whose similarity extends from their cherubic faces and silver hair to a back-to-basics message that has helped put them in position to vie for Poland's two top jobs.

Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczynski is leading in the polls for president. As head of a leading right-wing party, Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a possible contender for prime minister.

That identical twins are in the running for the positions is one of the quirks of an election year that will culminate in general elections Sept. 25 and presidential balloting in October.

Polls indicate the right will win both parliament and the presidency - now both in the hands of former communists. Such a handover of power would mark the sharpest change in direction since the end of the communist rule in 1989.

Should they hit the double jackpot, the Kaczynskis, Geminis who turn 56 on June 18, are promising nothing less than a radical "moral renewal," sweeping away a left-of-centre government they say has been infected with corruption.

In separate interviews with The Associated Press, the brothers - who avoid appearing together in public - laid out their vision for a better, cleaner Poland.

They both vowed to fight the so-called system of "political capitalism" that has flourished since the 1989 fall of communism: cronyism built on communist-era ties that has seen politicians promote the interests of certain businessmen in return for bribes or other favours.

"This must be broken," Jaroslaw said. "The Polish state must be overhauled." Lech calls for "a country more rooted in its traditions."

They pledge to be good partners with the United States, with Lech saying relations would be "the best possible" and that he could even imagine extending the presence of Polish troops in Iraq past a Dec. 31 deadline for ending the mission.

Still, he reserves criticism for what he says is an acceptance by Germany, France and to a lesser extent by the United States of what he views as an increasingly authoritarian Russia under President Vladimir Putin.

The two gained fame as youngsters in a movie based on a popular Polish children's book, The Two That Stole the Moon.

In high school and the army, they would sometimes take exams for each other. "Mostly my brother would take exams for me, in tactics, armaments, regulations or knowing the terrain, showing up and presenting himself as 'Private Kaczynski,"' Lech recalled with a smile.

The best way to tell them apart? Look for the distinctive moles that Lech has on his cheek and nose.

Surveys consistently show Lech leading a race of about a half dozen presidential contenders. A June 3-6 survey by the CBOS agency showed the mayor with 25 per cent support, ahead of famed cardiologist Zbigniew Religa with 19 per cent. The margin of error was plus or minus three per cent.

In the general elections, the twins' party - Lech is an honorary party leader - is running neck and neck with the business-friendly Civic Platform, meaning Jaroslaw could contend for the job of prime minister in a coalition or else hold another top ministerial post.

Unlike their allies in Civic Platform, the Kaczynskis and Law and Justice see a stronger role for state intervention in the economy.

Lech has won popularity as mayor for taking a tough stance on crime and promoting efforts to commemorate Warsaw's history - including a museum devoted to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and a planned museum on the history of Poland's Jews.

But he has also drawn the ire of gay rights activists and others by banning a yearly homosexual rights parade in Warsaw for the second consecutive year. Defying the ban, more than 2,000 gay-rights activists marched in Warsaw.

The brothers differ on whether they can imagine ending up a president-premier pair.

Jaroslaw said he might ask another party member to head the government to spare Poles the confusion of two top leaders with the same face.

But Lech wants no such sacrifice.

"If we win, I will strongly prevail on my brother not to yield," he said, referring to Jaroslaw's decision to refuse the premier's post in 1990. "I have no right to block my brother."


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