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Poles decide on a president and a war

The presidential election brought Poland's commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq into sharp relief.

As in much of the rest of the world, Poland's public finances were severely strained by the economic downturn, and the government is now scrambling to bring the budget deficit — likely to be about 7 percent of gross domestic product this year — under control. Tusk has proposed a new rule that will limit spending, making it difficult for Komorowski to keep his promises to hike pensions and increase salaries for teachers.

Going in to the snap election called after the death of Lech Kaczynski and many other senior politicians in the air crash, Jaroslaw Kaczynski was one of Poland's least-liked politicians. 

People remembered his two-year stint in power from 2005-2007, when he trampled on civil liberties in a bid to root out corruption, while also putting party cronies into cushy jobs in state companies and seizing control of the state media, all while worsening relations with Germany, Russia and the European Union.

But views of him changed dramatically after the April 10 crash. First, Kaczynski was the beneficiary of an enormous outpouring of sympathy for the personal loss he had suffered — he and his twin brother had been inseparable since childhood — calling each other several times a day; one of Lech Kaczynski's last conversations was a satellite phone call to Jaroslaw just minutes before the plane crashed.

When he decided to replace his brother as the candidate of the party the twins had founded, he completely changed his public persona. Instead of aggressive attacks on political foes, often treating them as traitors to the country, the new Jaroslaw Kaczynski was all kind and optimistic, calling for reconciliation in Poland and for better ties with Russia and Germany abroad.

“I think that this is the real Jaroslaw,” said Jadwiga Staniszkis, a sociologist who has been a close ally of the twins for many years. “In the past he responded fiercely whenever his brother was attacked. I think he's freer now.”

But Civic Platform refused to believe that the transformation was genuine, trying and failing to rattle Kaczynski into returning to his past aggressive tone.

The party as also hindered by Komorowski's lackluster campaign. The scion of an aristocratic family, Komorowski has an old-fashioned charm about him that fails to translate into an appeal acceptable to younger voters, who want a modern and open Poland. His gaffes and stiff manner ended up making the election a lot closer than polls had predicted just a couple of months ago.

“I couldn't support either Komorowski or Kaczynski, I simply didn't bother to vote,” said Maciej, a Krakow artist who is gay, and who found the social conservatism of both candidates off-putting.

The campaign ended up revitalizing Law and Justice, which earlier had the support of about a quarter of the electorate. Now that Kaczynski has managed to appeal to almost half of the voters who took part in the election, the party is counting on doing well in this year's local elections, and is even daring to dream of retaking power in next year's parliamentary vote.

“There are more elections before us. We have to be mobilized, we have to win,” Kaczynski told cheering supporters after the July 4 vote.

That has analysts worrying that despite taking control of Poland, Civic Platform will do little with its new-found power.