Youth vote looks lost for Poland's ruling twins

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WARSAW, Sep 20 (Reuters) ''Law and Justice rules while Poles are ashamed'' read the black posters on Warsaw streets.

In the style of death notices, they are part of the opposition campaign against the conservative party of the ruling Kaczynski twins ahead of a parliamentary election on October 21 and the message has struck a particular chord among younger voters.

''We look ridiculous in the world,'' says Dorota Wlodarek, 32, from an advertising company in Gdansk. ''I feel really ashamed when my friends abroad ask me what is going on here. This poster tells the whole truth,'' she said.

Recent opinion polls showed over 80 percent of young Poles felt ashamed of their leaders some two years after President Lech Kaczynski and twin brother Jaroslaw, the prime minister, came to power with a pledge to restore national pride.

Younger Poles, who have lived their adult lives since the fall of communism in 1989, have been put off by a series of scandals and repeated diplomatic battles that have won Poland the reputation as an awkward newcomer to the European Union.

''It is a fact that young Poles would like to live in a normal, tolerant European state. They feel embarrassed by the political scene,'' said Marek Migalski, an analyst from the Silesia University.

Whether that translates into an electoral problem for the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice party, however, is a different question.

As well as being more likely to feel unhappy with the government, young Poles are less likely to vote. Overall turnout was only 40 per cent at the last election in 2005 and younger voters were big abstainers.

RELUCTANT VOTERS The opposition Civic Platform, a centre-right party that is favoured by markets for its pro-business stance, is now trying to convince young people to come out and vote in the election.

It is level on opinion polls with the ruling party ahead of the election called two years early after the collapse of the prime minister's ruling coalition. The president does not face re-election until 2010.

Law and Justice also has its campaign to win over youths, but it is concentrating harder on bringing out its older core voters in the staunchly Catholic countryside than on young people in Poland's booming cities.

''These people will be reassured in their belief that Law and Justice is not a good party but they will not be convinced to come out and vote,'' Migalski said.

Another problem is the fact that so many young Poles have joined an exodus of an estimated 2 million from the country of 38 million who have gone abroad to search for better paying jobs since Poland joined the European Union in 2004.

A particular grievance for young Poles has been the foreign policy of the Kaczynskis, rooted in history and suspicious of old foes Germany and Russia after the Nazi devastation of World War Two and Moscow's domination in the communist era.

Surveys show most Poles under 35 regret the poor relations with Germany and would like Poland to be at the heart of the European Union instead of being seen as a troublemaker.

Other episodes under the Kaczynski brothers have also been a cause for embarrassment -- not least the government's idea of a probe into whether Tinky Winky, one of the Teletubbies, was promoting homosexual propaganda.

''When I meet my English friends, sometimes they laugh because of the Teletubbies. I always say, Poland is not only the Kaczynski brothers, not only the Teletubbies case,'' said Daniel Tokarczyk, news editor of Polish Express, a weekly newspaper for Poles living in Britain.

''They think only because of our twin brothers that our country has gone back 300 years.'' Reuters SKB GC1526

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