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Polish opposition's support holds up, despite rebels

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Nov. 22, 2010, 7:38 p.m. | World — by Reuters

Reuters

WARSAW, Nov. 22 (Reuters) - Several more lawmakers quit Poland's main opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party at the weekend, but their exit did not hurt support for PiS in Sunday's local elections and the party may yet bounce back. Exit polls late on Sunday showed conservative-nationalist PiS winning 27 percent of seats in regional assemblies, rather more than expected though behind the 34 percent seen for Prime Minister Donald Tusk's ruling centrist Civic Platform (PO).

Official results from Sunday's vote -- seen as a barometer of the national mood ahead of 2011 parliamentary elections -- are expected on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Investors are banking on a victory for Tusk's pro-business PO in next year's parliamentary election, an outcome political analysts say has been broadly reinforced by Sunday's voting patterns and by the continued ructions in PiS.

Two members of the Polish parliament and three members of the European Parliament confirmed over the weekend they were leaving PiS. They are expected to join other rebels in a new centre-right grouping called "Poland is the most important".

"We're now seeing the end of PiS as a party that is credibly diverse and republican," one of the rebels, MEP Pawel Kowal, told the Polish edition of Newsweek magazine on Monday.

Like other dissidents, he complained about what he said was a lack of tolerance and open discussion of ideas in PiS. Its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski controls the party with an iron grip.

RESILIENCE

However, analysts say it is too early to start writing PiS's political obituary, noting the resilience and loyalty of its core support, concentrated mainly among rural-based, devoutly Catholic and patriotic-minded older Poles.

"There is no indication that PiS is in a state of terminal decline," said Jacek Kucharczyk, head of the Institute of Public Affairs.

"(The loss of some MPs) is a problem for the party as it may find it more difficult to attract more moderate middle class voters, but (the rebels) are replaceable. And I can't exclude that Kaczynski may again opt to project a more moderate image."

Kaczynski, the twin brother of Polish President Lech Kaczynski who died in a plane crash in April, said on Sunday his party would have topped Sunday's local polls if it had not been for the rebels, a view analysts dismissed as unrealistic.

Kaczynski only narrowly lost the summer's presidential election to PO's Bronislaw Komorowski after moving to the political centre ground and cultivating a more emollient image.

Since then, Kaczynski has tacked back to the right and support for his party in opinion polls has dwindled to around 22-28 percent, well behind PO's 38-50 percent ratings.

Tusk wants to become the first Polish prime minister since the fall of communism in 1989 to win a second four-year term.

His government has deferred deep spending cuts and tax rises aimed at reducing Poland's big budget deficit for fear of scaring away voters and boosting Kaczynski's electoral chances.

A second round of the municipal and regional elections, in which Poles are choosing nearly 47,000 local councillors and close to 2,500 mayors of towns and cities, is set for Dec. 5.

Partial results announced on Monday showed PO's candidate on track to win re-election as mayor of Warsaw.
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