Poles pick successor to president killed in crash

More than two months after Poland’s president was killed in a plane crash, Poles are voting today to choose his successor – and polls show that his surviving twin brother faces an uphill battle in defeating the favorite despite a recent surge in sympathy for him.

The outcome is expected to shape the European Union member’s stance on issues such as the adoption of the euro, welfare reform and Poland’s mission in Afghanistan.

Poland is the only European Union country to have avoided recession during the global economic downturn. The election will also determine how it fares amid the new debt crisis.

The front-runner, Bronislaw Komorowski, is a pro-EU, moderate member of the governing Civic Platform party. He has pledged to work closely with the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk to adopt the euro in about five years, end the unpopular military mission in Afghanistan and promote pro-market reforms.

‘Polling in second place is Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the identical twin brother of the late president, Lech Kaczynski. He is a social conservative whose main goals are to fight crime and corruption, scale back market reforms in order to preserve a strong welfare state and promote Roman Catholic values in public life. He is more skeptical about the European Union and adoption of the euro, saying it’s too early to set a timetable for giving up the Polish currency, the zloty.

Kaczynski, a former prime minister, is known for his nationalism and his combative tone. But he has struck a more moderate tone since his brother’s death. Many Poles are unsure of whether the change is permanent or a strategy to win over middle-of-the-road voters.

Lech Kaczynski and his wife were among 96 people killed when their plane crashed while trying to land in heavy fog in Smolensk, Russia, on April 10. The delegation included many high-ranking civilian and military leaders, and the loss of so many high-ranking people provoked deep grief across the nation. Many officials have called it the worst tragedy to strike the country since the Second World War.

More than 30 million of Poland’s 38 million citizens are registered to vote in nearly 26,000 polling stations across this eastern European country.

The first exit polls will be released when the polls close, and official results will come in later tonight.

One opinion poll published on Friday by the Rzeczpospolita daily newspaper showed Komorowski had the support of 42% of those surveyed, to Kaczynski’s 31%. The poll, by the GfK Polonia institute, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

If no candidate reaches 50%, the two top contenders will compete in a runoff on July 4.

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