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Poland votes for new president

Poles voted today for a new head of state after president Lech Kaczynski perished in an air disaster, but his twin trailed the ruling party candidate in an audacious bid to take his brother's place.

world Updated: Jun 20, 2010 20:03 IST

Poles voted today for a new head of state after president Lech Kaczynski perished in an air disaster, but his twin trailed the ruling party candidate in an audacious bid to take his brother's place.

Opinion polls have put parliamentary speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, 58, of the market-friendly Civic Platform ahead of ex-premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 61, leader of the eurosceptic conservative Law and Justice party.

Kaczynski cast his ballot in Warsaw accompanied by his late brother's daughter and two grandaughters.

"I hope turnout is going to be high," he told reporters. Elections since the 1989 fall of Poland's communist regime have rarely drawn more than half of voters.

"I hope it will rise and that our democracy will be reinforced," he added. Polls close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT).

Poland was plunged into national grief by the April 10 plane crash in western Russia that killed Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, including his wife Maria and top political and military figures. The government delegation was headed for a memorial ceremony for thousands of Polish officers killed by Soviet forces during World War II.

The snap election is crucial for the conservatives because, since losing a parliamentary election in 2007, they have relied on Kaczynski's presidential veto powers to hamper the liberal government's policies.

On the other hand, victory for Komorowski -- a close ally of Prime Minister Donald Tusk -- would end a policy logjam and boost Civic Platform before parliamentary elections in late 2011.

On top of the crash tragedy, the campaign has also been overshadowed by recent floods that killed 24 people and forced thousands from their homes.

Both candidates have appealed to the 38 million Poles for national unity.

Voters in Warsaw said that despite the tragic circumstances the election was like any other.

"I chose Bronislaw Komorowski because of his experience in parliament and because Mr. Kaczynski did not pass the test when he served as prime minister -- he already had his chance," Grazyna Rykowa, 50, said.

Komorowski could garner 41 to 51 per cent of the vote, with Kaczynski winning between 29 to 35 per cent, surveys show. The other eight candidates lag far behind.

If no one scores over 50 per cent, a run-off between the top two vote-getters will be held on July 4, with opinion polls giving Komorowski a comfortable win in that contest.