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Poland faces landmark election

  • Story Highlights
  • Poland's liberal opposition party leads race on eve of parliamentary elections
  • Poland's PM is Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech is president
  • The Kaczynskis have promoted robust nationalism during two years in power
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KATOWICE, Poland (CNN) -- Poles vote Sunday in national elections that could decide the future direction of the central European country.

Observers say the deeply divisive Kaczynski era could be coming to an end.

In a closely fought campaign, the ruling Law and Justice party have slipped behind in the opinion polls after their leader and current Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski lost out in a televised debate with Donald Tusk, head of the opposition Civic Platform.

Observers say the deeply divisive double act of Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech, the country's president, could be coming to an end.

Since they came to power two years ago, the Kaczynskis and their Law and Justice Party, known as PiS, have promoted a robust nationalism which has frequently led Poland into confrontations with other European countries.

At a European Union summit this week, Jaroslaw Kaczynski fought and won a battle over Poland's voting power in the EU.

The Kaczynski brothers insist their confrontational style, which has also involved a campaign to drive out of public life all the former elements of Poland's Communist past, is about protecting the country's national interest. They point to six percent growth and falling unemployment under their rule.

But analysts say their willingness to pick fights is isolating the country within Europe, while the purge of the old Communist regime has been as much about settling scores as curbing corruption.

"It's partly due to their own personal backgrounds and history," said Pawel Swieboda, director of demosEuropa, a European strategy thinktank. "They were involved in the Solidarity opposition movement before '89 and it's partly what they think this country still needs. Namely to have a clean break with the past but one in which you point your finger at the ones who were guilty."

Jaroslaw Kaczynski has called a general election two years early after the collapse of his rightwing coalition. His ruling party claims the hardline approach has been necessary in order to return a moral backbone to Poland after years of Communist misrule.

Zyta Gilowska, the deputy prime minister, told CNN: "After half a century of Communism we are dealing with an undermined value system, hence the prominence of moral issues in our manifesto, so we can remember the values at the foundation of the nation."

By contrast, the opposition Civic Platform has put the emphasis on privatization, tax cuts and modernizing the economy. They say that for young Poles born into a democracy, historical score-settling matters less than finding a well-paid job.

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Both major parties have young and old supporters. But with the Law and Justice party strong among older rural voters, the city-dwelling young have been conducting an SMS campaign. "An election is coming" read the texts. "Save Poland. Hide your Granny's ID".

The Grandmothers, who have kept the documents they need to vote, get their chance to respond on Sunday. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Robin Oakley contributed to this report

All About Poland

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