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Komorowski win could test Poland`s will to reform

International Desk |
Update: 2010-07-02 13:25:55

WARSAW: Victory for Bronislaw Komorowski in Poland`s snap presidential election Sunday could end a policy logjam, boosting stalled economic reforms, but also test his governing liberals` mettle, analysts say.

Most recent opinion polls have shown Komorowski is the favourite to win the run-off race against conservative ex-prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The election was forced by the April air-crash death of the latter`s identical twin and close political ally, conservative president Lech Kaczynski.

The liberal Civic Platform party had been eying the chance to oust Lech Kaczynski in an election originally due this autumn, with speaker of parliament Komorowski tapped to stand and tipped to foil his bid for a new five-year term.

Lech Kaczynski was elected in 2005. His twin was prime minister from 2006 to 2007.

After their Law and Justice party lost office to Civic Platform in the 2007 general election, Kaczynski`s presidential veto became a tool to hobble the liberals. He used it 18 times, according to the presidential office.

"Of course there will be no excuse not to push through reforms when Komorowski comes in," said Danske Bank economist Lars Christensen.

Christensen said that would mean a challenge for Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a close ally of Komorowski.

"His main excuse, the former president, will no longer be there," he told AFP.

"The key task the government faces now is to ensure a reduction in the budget deficit while at the same time making room for expenditure ready for the European football championship in 2012," he added.

Poland is scrambling to get up to scratch for the football showcase, which it will co-host with neighbour Ukraine.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers economist Witold Orlowski agreed with the analysis.

"In the coming months it could be easier for the Civic Platform to govern if Mr. Kaczynski were president, because it would give them an excuse for not implementing the necessary reforms," Orlowski said.

Local elections are due in Poland this fall, and a parliamentary ballot in the autumn of 2011.

The thorniest routes to keeping spending in check include reforming the pension system -- notably special rules for farmers -- and overhauling the health sector.

"Reforming public finances, taxation and the health sector is a priority," Civic Platform lawmaker Pawel Olszewski told AFP, adding the reforms should be carried out before the next general election.

"They are indispensable and I`m convinced it`s possible," he said.

Although Poland was alone in the 27-nation European Union in posting economic growth in 2009, it was still hit by the slump.

Its public deficit soared to 7.2 percent of gross domestic product. Brussels has requested it be brought back below a 3.0-percent limit by 2012.

"What would Poland be like if we had satisfied the demands of Law and Justice for higher spending? Today we would be Greece," Komorowski said in late June, alluding to that country`s massive debt crisis.

Kaczynski`s camp disputes such arguments.

"There is no question of raising spending without raising revenues and no Pole wants a tax hike," says Pawel Poncyliusz, Kaczynski`s campaign chief and former deputy economy minister.

"We`re certainly facing a serious discussion on public finance reform," he told AFP.

"Economic indicators are not Mr. Kaczynski`s goals, but that average Poles have better lives thanks to economic growth instead of belt-tightening," he said.

Another factor is the need to court left-wing voters, after the leader of the Social Democratic SLD, Grzegorz Napieralski, enjoyed surprise support in a June 20 first round.

"The political comeback of the SLD, I think, will become a major factor in the coming year and that becomes a real challenge in terms of reform," said Christensen.

Orlowski also underlined that: "Whoever will be the victor in the presidential election, he will probably not be able to push through a package of necessary reforms without some kind of agreement from the Social Democrats".

BDST: 8:34 HRS, July 3, 2010

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