Polish Elections Confirm Popularity of Government

WARSAW, Poland -- Poles voted Sunday in local elections that appeared to reward the government's go-slow approach in trimming the welfare state in the EU's largest new member -- the only one in Europe to avoid a recession.

An exit poll released after polls closed Sunday showed the governing party of Civic Platform won nearly 34 percent of votes in provincial assemblies, followed by 27 percent for the country's main opposition party, Law and Justice. Runoff elections in two weeks are still needed to determine the outcome in several mayoral races.

The poll, carried out by the TNS OBOP polling agency, showed the opposition party Democratic Left Alliance winning nearly 16 percent and the Polish People's Party -- the junior partner in the government -- with 13 percent. The poll, published by the TVN24 station, gave no margin of error.

The results underline the continued popularity of the governing Civic Platform party and its leader, Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The team has a pro-business philosophy and has privatized some state-run enterprises during its three years at the helm, but overall has not met its promise to trim back the welfare state significantly.

That hesitancy seems to have bolstered the government's popularity because it means Poland has avoided painful cuts during the global economic crisis, also boding well for Civic Platform in national elections next year.

Poland's economy slowed during the financial crisis but the nation was the only one in Europe to avoid a recession, another factor which has given Tusk's governing team a boost.

However, the budget deficit has grown, prompting the government to plan an unpopular 1 percentage point increase in the value added tax to 23 percent on many goods and services.

Due to Europe's economic turmoil and the growing deficit, the government also has postponed plans to adopt the euro currency. Though many business owners favor the currency change, many Poles oppose it because they fear it will lead to a rise in prices.

The exit polls underline the secondary role still held by the main opposition group, Law and Justice. The conservative and nationalist party was founded by the late President Lech Kaczynski -- who was killed in a plane crash this year -- and his twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who remains its leader.

Kaczynski has clashed with some of his closest party supporters in recent weeks. He has expelled two close aides, and several others have left in protest. The turmoil appears to have weakened the party's support somewhat but not crippled it.

Compared to the last national elections in 2007, which brought Tusk to power, both parties have lost some support. In that vote, Civic Platform won 42 percent and Law and Justice 32 percent.

A national election for parliament must be held by late 2011, but no date has been set.