WARSAW Poland's conservative Kaczynski twins were beaten in a parliamentary election on Sunday by a centre-right opposition party ready to mend relations with EU allies, speed economic reforms and pull troops from Iraq.
The Civic Platform's victory over the ruling Law and Justice party, with the biggest turnout since the fall of communism nearly two decades ago, appeared to be a rejection of two years of turbulent rule by the nationalist twins.
Exit polls showed the Civic Platform won around 44 percent of the vote. Law and Justice had just over 30 percent.
Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski conceded defeat. His brother Lech, the president, does not face an election until 2010 but opposition parties together looked set to get enough seats to trump his power to veto legislation.
"The Platform's role will be to return Poland to the heart of Europe," said Bronislaw Komorowski, a top Platform official.
Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk, expected to be the next prime minister, said he welcomed the mandate for change given by the 55 percent turnout: "We are moved that Poles went to cast their ballots."
The Civic Platform appeared to be a few seats short of being able to govern alone, but the centrist Peasants' Party said it was ready for coalition talks. A leftist bloc said it would remain in opposition but support pro-EU policies.
The result by the Platform was the best by any party since communism.
"We have failed against a wide front," the prime minister said. "We will be a decisive, tough opposition."
The election was called two years early after his last coalition collapsed amid acrimony over a corruption investigation. He had put the fight against post-communist graft at the heart of his campaign.
The opposition's strength is among youths and in cities enjoying the fastest growth for a decade. The Kaczynskis have more support among staunchly Catholic Poles and older people in rural areas who feel left out by years of change.
"Finally! The situation we had here was impossible, unbearable," said Marek Stepien, a building worker celebrating in the city of Gdansk.
The Platform was also the favorite of financial markets, which expect reforms such as tax cuts and privatization that would also help the country of 38 million towards adopting the euro currency.
"This is a far better outcome than generally expected and is likely to be taken very positively by the markets," said Silja Sepping of Lehman Brothers. The zloty has been at a 5-year high on expectations of a Civic Platform win.
A senior Platform official said the party would seek to bring home some 900 troops from the U.S.-led force in Iraq and also made clear it toughen its stance with Washington over plans for controversial "missile shield" installations in Poland.
Above all, the party aims to rebuild ties with EU partners such as Germany that have been badly strained under the Kaczynskis.
"There will be a huge change in style. Poland's credibility will be rebuilt," said Zbigniew Lewicki of Warsaw University.
"We have a chance to become a normal European country. This is the end of a dark period for this country. It is over now and it is over before serious damage had been done."
A Platform official said the party would aim to quickly ratify a new EU treaty over which the Kaczynskis had wrangled to win voting concessions to the despair of EU leaders.
Turnout was the highest for a parliamentary election since 1989. That compared to 40 percent in 2005, when the low voter participation helped the Kaczynskis.
Exit polls indicated that the opposition parties would together get the three-fifths of the 460 seats that they need in the lower house of parliament to be able to stop the president using his veto powers as long as they are united.
The polls suggested Civic Platform could have won 70 of the 100 seats in the Senate. Final results are expected on Tuesday.
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