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Poland’s race for president going to runoff

Vanessa Gera Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland – A pro-market lawmaker and Warsaw’s socially conservative mayor appeared headed for a runoff in Poland’s presidential election on Sunday after neither candidate appeared to have gained the 50 percent of the vote needed for victory, according to preliminary results and a key exit poll.

With 91.5 percent of the ballots counted, 36 percent of voters had backed Donald Tusk, a pro-business candidate committed to stimulating entrepreneurship with low taxes and deregulation; 33 percent voted for Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, a former child actor hoping to preserve a strong safety net, according to the state electoral commission. Turnout was nearly 50 percent.

If the results hold, the two former activists with the anti-communist Solidarity movement would be forced into a runoff on Oct. 23.

The race in the former communist country centered on the Europe-wide issue of just how far to go in sacrificing old welfare state protections for the promise of an American-style economy with fast growth and job creation.

Final results were not expected until today, the electoral commission told the Associated Press, but exit polls in Poland have proven in the past to be a reliable indicator of the final vote.

The two front-runners barely discussed the outgoing government’s plan to pull Polish troops out of Iraq by early next year, though their parties suggested the force could stay longer – provided the country can renegotiate terms of the deployment with Washington. The deployment of about 1,500 troops is deeply unpopular in Poland.

Both Tusk and Kaczynski have their political roots in the anti-communist Solidarity movement of the 1980s and have pledged to fight corruption and the continued influence in politics of former communists.

Both candidates can be expected to continue a strong pro-U.S. stance. And as relations have worsened with Russia lately, Poland’s need for Washington’s support has grown even more important, political analysts say.

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