Polish voters ousted the nation's scandal-prone government of former Communists in parliamentary elections Sunday, giving a broad majority to two center-right parties that have promised tax cuts and clean government, according to exit polls.
Projections based on exit polls by state television showed the socially conservative Law and Justice Party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, with 27.8 percent of the vote, and the pro-business Civic Platform with 24.1 percent. The governing Democratic Left Alliance of Prime Minister Marek Belka, which has been plagued by scandals and Europe's highest unemployment rate, lagged behind with 11.2 percent.
An exit poll for private TVN-24 showed similar results, with Law and Justice getting 28.3 percent of the vote, Civic Platform 26.3 percent and the Democratic Left Alliance 11.1 percent.
In choosing two conservative parties, it seemed, voters were eager for change. The parties have roots in the Solidarity trade union movement that led efforts to topple Poland's communist government. Sunday's turnout, however, was the lowest since the 1990 election that brought union leader Lech Walesa to power.
But following the example of German voters a week ago, Poles appeared to reject all-out cuts in state welfare benefits, giving the most votes to Law and Justice, a party that seeks to blend free-market economics with government programs that strengthen social equality.
Kaczynski, citing a deal with Civic Platform, said after the release of exit polls that he now had a mandate to become prime minister.
"The agreement was that whoever wins the election has the prime minister post, and then this applies to me as the head of the winning party," Kaczynski said.
Projections by state television showed the two parties winning 305 seats in the 460-seat lower house of Parliament -- a solid majority, but one that that falls short of the two-thirds needed to alter the constitution.
Belka's government had announced its intention to withdraw most Polish troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, when the current deployment ends. During the campaign, Civic Platform leaders said a new government would consider extending Poland's deployment in Iraq only if it was offered a new "contract" with the United States. Otherwise, Polish troops would begin packing up at the end of the current deployment. Poland leads a multinational force of 4,000 in Iraq, 1,500 of them Polish.
The campaign, however, focused largely on domestic issues. Despite some successes by the ruling party, including strong economic growth early on and Poland's 2004 entry into the European Union, the country has faced high unemployment, now at 17.8 percent, and a series of scandals that have undermined the party's standing.
Donald Tusk, the Civic Platform leader, conceded that Law and Justice earned more votes than his party, which favored a 15 percent flat tax on incomes.
Poland will hold presidential elections Oct. 9, with a likely runoff vote two weeks later.
Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, the identical twin brother of the Law and Justice leader, is one of two leading candidates in that race. The other is Tusk.