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Published:October 21st, 2007 16:00 EST
Poland Selects New Government

Poland Selects New Government

By Krzys Wasilewski

The liberal Civic Platform (PO) party has won an early parliamentary election in Poland, taking almost 43 percent of the ballot. The governing Law and Justice (PiS) party has come second with a little bit more than 30 percent. A coalition of socialists and liberals (LiD) was third, with 13 percent, whereas the centrist Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) ended with eight percent. It means that in a parliament of 460 seats, PO gains 224, PiS takes 180, LiD around 80 seats, and PSL 27. If politicians hold to their promises, Poland should have a strong coalition formed by the Civic Platform and Polish Peasants' Party.

It was a sleepless night for Poles who tried to figure out which party has won the national election. When clocks struck 8 p.m. local time, marking the end of the voting, the National Electoral Commission advised that no results could be published until 8:30 because some local electoral commissions were still open.

The reason for the delay was the lack of voting cards, since nobody had expected such a high turn out. At 4:30 p.m., almost 40 percent of Poles had cast their ballots, 10 percent more than two years ago. But, when journalists across the country prepared to show the first results, the National Electoral Commission called another conference at 8:29 p.m. to postpone ending the election process until nine o'clock. The time had been changed three times until 10:55 p.m., when all electoral commissions were officially closed.

If the final results were not hard to predict– the majority of opinion polls pointed at the Civic Platform as the winner– the high turnout surprised everyone, politicians and ordinary Poles alike. Since democratic changes in 1989, Poles had rarely showed up at the ballot box in large numbers. The highest turnout-- 65 percent-– was recorded in 2003 during a referendum on joining the European Union. But only two years later, during both presidential and parliamentary elections, less than half of the 30 million people allowed to vote actually turned up. The fact that around 56 percent of voters have cast their ballots may mean that this downward trend has been reversed. Although politicians of all major parties called their supporters to participate in the election, they, too, seemed flabbergasted by the outcome.

The early election was called when the bickering coalition of the Law and Justice Party and two populist parties fell apart in August this year. First, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski fired his deputy and the leader of Self Defense after the latter was accused of corruption. Then, Roman Giertych, of the League of Polish Families who also served as the minister of education, resigned, setting off an avalanche of self-accusations and inter-coalition fights. When the minority government proved unable to pass its bills in parliament, all the major parties voted in favor of calling an early election.

The victorious Civic Platform paints itself as a pro-European party with strong ties to the European Union. During an election campaign, its leaders voiced concerns about a seemingly too pro-American position of the outgoing government. The Civic Platform has also promised to withdraw more than 1,000 Polish troops from Iraq as soon as possible.