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Good turnout for Polish vote

  • Story Highlights
  • Voter numbers reported to be up in Polish 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
  • PM faces tough challenge from Donald Tusk, of Civic Platform party
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(CNN) -- Poles voted on Sunday in national elections that could decide the future direction of the central European country.

Analysts predict the deeply divisive double act of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech, the country's president, could be coming to an end.

The polls opened at 6 a.m., with early indications showing voting numbers were up from previous elections that were plagued by low turnout.

Polish voters braved chilly weather to choose between the ruling Law and Justice party of the Kaczynski brothers and the opposition Civic Platform, headed by Donald Tusk.

According to the Polish state electoral commission's Web site, some 8.4 percent of the 30 million eligible voters had cast their ballots by 10.30 a.m. (0330 ET)compared to 6.8 percent at the same point two years ago, when final turnout reached only 40 percent.

About 69,000 Poles living in Britain and Ireland were expected to take part in the election at voting booths in the two countries. The state electoral commission said final returns are expected Monday or Tuesday.

In the run-up to Sunday's vote, the Law and Justice party had slipped behind in opinion polls after Kaczynski was outflanked in a televised debate with Tusk.

Since the Kaczynski brothers came to power two years ago, they and their party, known as PiS, have promoted a robust nationalism which has frequently led them 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 remaining 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 the Kaczynskis' 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 think tank. "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."

The prime minister called a general election two years early after the collapse of his rightwing coalition.

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."

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

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." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley contributed to this report

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