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article imagePolls in Poland predict solid conservative victory

By Mary Sibierski (AFP)     Oct 23, 2015 in Politics

Poland's conservative opposition is poised to win Sunday's general election, according to final polls, which suggest its welfare promises and anti-refugee rhetoric have helped clinch a hefty lead over the governing centrists.

Analysts however also insist the departure last year of centrist leader Donald Tusk to the post of EU council president left his struggling Civic Platform (PO) in the lurch, paving the way for a Law and Justice (PiS) party victory after eight years in opposition.

The PiS scored between 32 and 40 percent support among voters in surveys released Friday, well ahead of the 24-28 percent for the PO of Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz.

Even if controversial PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski fails to secure the 231-seat majority he needs to govern alone, analysts insist the 66-year-old former premier will easily find MPs from smaller parties willing to join his government, without formally entering into a coalition.

"Kaczynski is sure to win and even if he doesn't manage a majority he will sweep up MPs from smaller parties," Warsaw-based political analyst Eryk Mistewicz told AFP.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski  leader of the opposition Law and Justice party  speaks at a party convention in ...
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the opposition Law and Justice party, speaks at a party convention in Warsaw on October 22, 2015
Janek Skarzynski, AFP/File

Punk rocker Pawel Kukiz, whose May presidential bid scored a surprise 20 percent support, could steer his anti-establishment Kukiz'15 party into parliament. Analysts tip it as the PiS's most likely partner.

Warsaw University political scientist Anna Materska-Sosnowska also points to the PSL farmers' party -- the PO's junior coalition partner in the outgoing administration -- as another possible PiS ally.

- Puppetmaster -

"After eight years in opposition, Kaczynski is making a big comeback," said Mistewicz, adding that "one of the main reasons is because Donald Tusk is missing from Polish politics".

With growth in this EU member pegged at 3.5 percent this year and next and joblessness below 10 percent, the PO can boast sound economic management.

But after Tusk left, "the PO failed to turn its successes into political capital" said Materska-Sosnowska.

The party also never recovered from a 2014 eavesdropping scandal that discredited key government ministers who were also star members.

Poland's main opposition Law and Justice party (PiS) candidate for the prime minister's po...
Poland's main opposition Law and Justice party (PiS) candidate for the prime minister's post, Beata Szydlo speaks to supporters during a campaign meeting in Warsaw on October 17, 2015
Janek Skarzynski, AFP/File

According to Mistewicz "PiS won the campaign battle on Twitter and Facebook."

"If Tusk were still on the scene, PO could have held onto the presidency and would be on its way to a victory today. Tusk has extraordinary political skill. I call it 'Tusk's Radar'."

In a development that could further damage the PO's performance, prime minister Kopacz fired deputy justice minister Monika Zbrojewska late Friday after police charged her with drunk driving.

Regarded himself as a skilled political puppet-master, Kaczynski scored a resounding victory in May's presidential election when he floated political greenhorn Andrzej Duda, who easily beat incumbent and long-time PO ally Bronislaw Komorowski.

Now Kaczynski has put forward Duda's campaign manager, Beata Szydlo, for prime minister.

The 52-year-old coal miner's daughter and MP is wooing voters with populist promises of lower taxes and generous spending.

Kaczynski has meanwhile played up fears linked to the EU's worst migrant crisis since World War II.

Right-wing demonstrators hold flags during a protest against migrants in Warsaw on September 12  201...
Right-wing demonstrators hold flags during a protest against migrants in Warsaw on September 12, 2015
Janek Skarzynski, AFP/File

He claimed refugees were bringing "cholera to the Greek islands, dysentery to Vienna, various types of parasites" in comments that critics said recalled the Nazi era.

Poland should financially support EU efforts to tackle the crisis, but not take in refugees, he says. Surveys show nearly 60 percent of Poles share his views.

PiS last held power in 2005-7, when Kaczynski governed in tandem with his twin brother, the late president Lech Kaczynski.

That period was marked by internal political turmoil triggered by their combative style and international tensions brought on by their eurosceptic and anti-Russian views.

Lech Kaczynski died in a presidential jet crash in Smolensk, western Russia, in 2010.

Other parties that could enter parliament include the United Left, the Nowoczesna (Modern) liberals, the libertarian Korwin group and leftist Razem (Together).

A campaign blackout comes into effect Friday midnight ahead of Sunday's voting, which runs from 0600 to 2000 GMT.

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