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In Poland, floods threaten political consequences

With presidential elections set for June, the worst floods Poland has seen in more than a century have sparked debate.

Donald Tusk, the prime minister, has been crisscrossing the country, with his sleeves literally rolled up, to assure Poles that the maximum is being done to keep them safe. A similar message is being sent by Bronislaw Komorowski, the acting president and the presidential nominee of Tusk’s Civic Platform party.

“This is a terrible flood,” said Tusk, standing on a dam across the Vistula north of Warsaw.

The government’s political foes are already pressing their attack. In his maiden campaign speech on Saturday, Jaroslaw Kaczynski — who became the nominee of the right-wing opposition Law and Justice party after his twin brother Lech, Poland’s president, was killed in an April 10 air disaster — devoted his entire speech to the floods.

“Politics and the state are not toys — we have to draw the appropriate conclusions,” he told a cheering crowd, while also pledging to support the government in battling the floods. His allies have been even more direct, accusing the government of abandoning a previous plan to build better anti-flood defenses in order to save money, something the government denies.

“Civic Platform has allowed Poland to be flooded,” announced the conservative Nasz Dziennik daily newspaper.

The upcoming elections are casting a shadow over the government’s efforts to deal with the flood. Under the Polish constitution, if the government declares a state of emergency, any elections have to be delayed by at least three months. Such a scenario would force the cancellation of the June 20 vote, which could leave the government open to charges of using the state of emergency for political ends.

However, some local governments are calling for a state of emergency to be declared to allow them to more easily evacuate people.

“We will not hesitate for even a minute” to call a state of emergency, if rescue authorities ask for one, Tusk said.

Floods have had political consequences in the past. Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, the prime minister in 1997, when much of western Poland was flooded, said at the time that it was people’s own fault if they hadn’t thought to buy insurance before the disaster stuck. The unpopular statement helped lead to the defeat of his left-wing party in parliamentary elections later that year.