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Published: Saturday, 10/1/2005

Poland's shift to the right

POLAND'S center-right parties won that country's parliamentary elections last Sunday, ousting the former, reflagged Communists, with presidential elections still to come next month.

American conservative Republicans had backed the center-right groups, in the form of the Law and Justice Party and the Civic Platform, the two now likely to form a governing coalition with a combined 52 percent of the vote.

One example of this phenomenon was actual campaigning in Poland for Law and Justice by a representative of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Radek Sikorski. Another was the very visible election eve visit to the United States of Lech Walesa, famed for his leadership of Solidarity, the roots of the Law and Justice and Civic Platform parties.

In the sense that the new center-right Polish government is likely to be more sympathetic to American interests than the defeated Democratic Left Alliance, which received only 11 percent of the vote, there could be some payout for the United States. The new coalition could, for example, reverse the previous government's decision to withdraw by Dec. 31 the 1,500 Polish troops now in Iraq.

On the other hand, the new government is likely to present a bill to the Bush administration in the form of a request for the abolition of visas for travel by Poles to the United States, which might not be that easy to deliver.

Although the center-right's victory was clear, with about 60 percent of the seats in the lower house of the parliament, all is still not honey and roses. The two parties are discussing strenuously who gets to be prime minister.

Law and Justice got 28 percent of the votes to Civic Platform's 24 percent, but Civic Platform is seeking a two-fer in pushing its man, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, for prime minister. He is the identical twin brother of Lech Kaczynski, who will be the party's candidate for president Oct. 9.

Another problem will be that the new government wants to accelerate Poland's joining the euro zone (the countries that use euros for currency) as one means of attacking its 18 percent unemployment, the primary reason for the center-right victory.

But Civic Platform favors tax cuts, like the Bush Administration, and Poland, like America, is running a significant budget deficit. That deficit, now standing at 4.5 percent, cannot exceed 3 percent if Poland is to be admitted to the euro zone.

The other disquieting element in these elections, the fifth since the fall of communism in 1989, is that voter turnout was only 41 percent, attributed to voters' disillusionment with the high level of corruption in the country.

Nonetheless, those who voted did so for change, and it appears that Poland is now headed in some interesting new directions. We wish it well.

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