Poland's future hangs in balance

Contrasting candidates offer different visions as presidential vote goes to second round.

    Jaroslaw had made it clear that he felt a moral obligation to follow in his brother's footsteps [AFP]

    At Jaroslaw Kaczynski's campaign headquarters, there is a sense of excitement and sadness, with tears and laughter.

    It has been a subdued campaign for the Law and Justice party, with their leader mourning the death of his brother Lech, who died in a plane crash along with his wife and 94 other people in Russia on April 10.
    Not only were they identical twins, they were also extremely close, speaking to each other every day.

    in depth

      Profile: Bronislaw Komorowski
      Profile: Jaroslaw Kaczynski

    Jaroslaw now faces a tight run-off on July 4 with Bronislaw Komorowski, Poland's centrist presidential candidate, after neither candidate won enough votes in Sunday's poll to win outright.

    Jaroslaw had made it clear that he felt a moral obligation to follow in his brother's footsteps, and this election result has given him a second chance to do just that. 

    He may be behind his rival, but Jaroslaw told his supporters who were chanting his name that he is confident of victory.

    "The key to our final success, because this election is still not over, is our faith that we can win and we must win," he said.

    At rival Komorowski's camp, the mood has been upbeat as well. But the acting president must be a little disappointed since his once convincing lead is now lost, despite finishing first in Sunday's vote.

    He told his supporters: "I will do everything that I can do before the second round and also I'll be counting on the help of all gathered here and all people in Poland to reach the hearts and minds of all voters who will have to make a choice in the second round."

    Aleksander Smolar, a prominent political scientist, has seen presidents come and go.

    "Since the presidential plane accident this has become a clash of personalities," Smolar says.

    "Jaroslaw Kaczynski is more charismatic," he explains. "Komorowski is a good man, but more a family man, not really a great leader."

    'Keeping order'

    The importance of the crash cannot be underestimated - not only did Poland lose its president, but also its military and civilian leaders.

    Lech Kaczynski died in a plane crash along with his wife in April and 94 other people [Reuters]

    There are memorials all around Warsaw, pictures of Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria smiling out at you.

    Jaroslaw has benefited from a sympathy vote, but like his twin Lech, his protection of the welfare state appeals to many sections of society here.

    I travelled to Murowanka, a village a few hours out of the capital.

    What strikes you about Poland's heartlands is how much poorer and more conservative people are here.

    Even with EU money, people here are struggling to make a living and support Jaroslaw because he promises to protect their way of life.

    Jozef Jorsinski has been farming all his life and his land has been in the family for generations.

    There is no hesitation when he tells me why he supports Jaroslaw.

    "I think he has good experience," he exclaims. "He was prime minister and as president he will know how to keep order."

    Nation's future

    Aleksander Kwasniewski is also a man with experience. He spent a decade in power as president of Poland.

    Komorowski has seen a convincing lead
    fall away [AFP]

    In his central Warsaw office he tells me how concerned he is about the impact of another Kaczynski in power.

    "We need a president who is able to organise this bi-partisan approach, who is ready to unite us, not divide us," Kwasniewski says.
    Jaroslaw is renowned for his deep suspicion of Europe and Russia - his brief period as prime minister ended badly - but in this campaign he has managed to reinvent himself as a more moderate leader.
    Both Jaroslaw and Komorowski now have two weeks to set out their visions for the country. Two months on from the death of Lech Kaczynski, Poland must wait longer for its next president.

    There are differences in their vision of Poland - but there is nowhere better to assess their similar views than in the sprawling shipyards of Gdansk.

    The docks are now part of a museum honouring Solidarity, the movement that helped defeat communism and to which both candidates belonged.

    The nation's turbulent history is important, young and old are drawn to this place every day, but at stake now is the direction of Poland's future.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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