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Friday, September 23, 2005

Polish Opposition Leads Poll With Tax-Cut, Anti-Corruption Vows


Poland's largest opposition parties, Citizens' Platform and Law & Justice, are set to win Sept. 25 elections after wooing voters with pledges to lower taxes and fight corruption, the biggest polling organization said.

Citizens Platform may take 33 percent of the vote and Law & Justice may win 27 percent, according to a Sept. 14-18 survey of 1,028 potential voters by the Warsaw-based Center for Public Research. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. Today is the last day surveys can be published.

The Democratic Left Alliance government, which has had two premiers and four finance ministers in four years, lost support because of corruption scandals and a record jobless rate. Leaders of the two main opposition parties say they will form a coalition to focus on helping companies hire and spur growth in the $272 billion economy, the largest of the new European Union members.

"People are choosing the Platform and the Law & Justice party because they see party leaders as honest and credible,'' said Krzysztof Pankowski, a sociologist at the center, in an interview. "After four years of the Democratic Left Alliance ruling, honesty and credibility are the main criteria being taken into account by potential voters.''

The two parties need to win about 45 percent of votes to gain a majority in the lower house, depending on how many parties reach the 5 percent threshold. Support for the Alliance was at 6 percent, according to the poll.

Seeking Honesty

Almost 40 percent of those surveyed said legislators should be judged mainly by their honesty and credibility, not their programs. Almost the same number said politicians associated with the Democratic Left alliance are dishonest. The Alliance must win at least 5 percent to stay in parliament.

The party was damaged by a parliamentary probe into accusations that party members were involved in an attempt by film producer Lew Rywin to extort money from a media company in return for blocking a bill limiting media ownership. Rywin has been jailed for three years and several Alliance members face criminal charges.

Another investigation followed accusations that President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former party member, may have been involved in talks with a Russian spy about plans to sell the country's second-biggest refinery, Rafineria Gdanska. Kwasniewski has denied the allegations, which are being probed by lawmakers.

Dozens of Alliance lawmakers were forced to quit the party as a result of the scandals, while others resigned to set up a rival political faction, leaving the ruling party with 151 seats in the 460-member parliament, compared with 216 four years ago.

Record Joblessness

The unemployment rate soared to a record 20.6 percent in January 2003 and at 17.8 percent in August remains the highest in the EU. Public debt has grown almost 60 percent to 444 billion zloty ($138 billion). Prime Minister Marek Belka left the coalition during his term to form a new opposition party.

"Poles never really had much hope in their politicians but SLD leaders behaved like they were competing to be the least- trusted and least-competent officials,'' said Beata Laciak, a sociologist at the Warsaw University. "Now, they pay the price of deep disillusion.''

The Citizens Platform, formed 4 1/2 years ago, is led by former activists of the Solidarity movement that led the drive to oust communism in the late 1980s. It will introduce a flat 15 percent tax, compared with the current progressive income tax of 19 percent, 30 percent and 40 percent, and a corporate rate of 19 percent. The value-added tax rate is as high as 22 percent.

Law & Justice, which rejects the flat-tax plan, favors reductions in corporate and personal rates to 18 percent and 28 percent respectively by 2009 and tax exemptions for companies that offer new jobs.

Balancing Policies

Both parties say their priorities will be to achieve economic growth above the 2005 forecast of 3.3 percent, and to fight unemployment. The parties differ over the speed of euro adoption and the scale of possible social spending and state-asset sales.

"The Platform and Law & Justice will have to find many issues related to the economy,'' said Miroslaw Plojhar, the chief economist at Ceska Sporitelna in Prague. "Law & Justice is likely to focus on legislation against corruption and criminality, while the Platform is likely to get the economy and finance ministers.''

Law & Justice, founded by Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother in 2001, pledged to fight corruption that party leaders say is still rampant in Poland 16 years after communism.

Two other opposition parties may gain representation. Self Defense, called Samoobrona in Polish, had 12 percent in the survey. It wants the state to resume control over the economy and monetary policy. The Polish Families League was supported by 9 percent. The Polish Peasants Party had 5 percent.

On Sunday, polling stations will open between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. As they close, exit polls will be published by the largest televisions stations in cooperation with research centers. Official results will be published as early as Sept. 27.


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