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Polish maverick MP launches anti-clerical party

WARSAW (Reuters) - A flamboyant millionaire lawmaker could have an instant impact on Polish politics with a new, anti-clerical party that would legalise abortion on demand, provide free condoms and curb the Catholic Church’s clout.

Janusz Palikot told the founding congress of his Modern Poland (NP) movement late on Saturday that he would quit Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s ruling centre-right Civic Platform (PO) and also resign his parliamentary seat on December 6.

“The Modern Poland movement demands the removal of religious instruction from schools, liquidation of the clergy (pension) fund... and state ceremonies at which we do not have to view the fat bellies of bishops,” Palikot told 4,000 cheering supporters.

Poland remains one of the most devout countries in Europe and its churches are packed on Sundays, but a growing number of Poles, especially among younger urban voters, resent priests’ attempts to shape social policy or to tell them how to vote.

Although Palikot is known for stunts, the group could have an immediate real impact on Poland’s electoral math.

The first opinion poll to include it, published this weekend by pollsters Homo Homini, showed the NP winning 4 percent of the vote, just one percentage point shy of the threshold needed to become one of the four or five parties in a future parliament.

Palikot, 46, has built up a reputation as the ‘court jester’ of Polish politics and loves to shock conservative opinion with his colourful no-holds-barred language and high-profile pranks.

At one televised news conference he brandished a pistol and rubber penis to protest against policemen accused of rape.

An inveterate critic of Poland’s conservative late president Lech Kaczynski, Palikot once protested against the large drinks bill run up at the presidential palace by publicly downing small 50-millilitre bottles of vodka in the street.

Palikot has also described Tusk as “a burnt-out politician who has run out of ideas,” though the prime minister played down the likely impact of Modern Poland on national politics.

“In politics, competition is a good thing. My intuition tells me it (NP) won’t be a big problem for us,” Tusk told reporters in the Baltic port of Szczecin.

Some Polish commentators have speculated that Palikot’s break with Tusk, a topic of discussion now for many weeks, could be a move backed by Tusk to undermine support for the ex-Communist Democratic Left Alliance, traditionally a vehicle for Poles protesting against the influence of the church.

Palikot made his fortune in various business schemes in the 1990s as capitalism took hold in Poland. They included packaging, alcohol and even an ultra-Catholic magazine.

His new party also calls for the abolition of Poland’s upper house of parliament, the 100-seat Senate, for downsizing the lower house Sejm to 300 seats from 460 and restricting lawmakers to a maximum of two four-year terms in parliament.

Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Graff