Polish emigrants likely to shun election

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LONDON, Oct 15 (Reuters) Polish builders Grzegorz Grodecki and Wojtek Bielejec tend to discuss their work when they meet up in a London pub -- not the upcoming election back home.

''Maybe my wife will vote. She sits at home and watches Polish television so she knows what is going on. I do not, so I will not vote,'' said Grodecki as he sipped his pint of beer after working on an apartment refurbishment.

An estimated 2 million Poles have emigrated to get better paying jobs since Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and in theory they could be a major force at the early parliamentary election on October 21.

But some analysts believe only a small proportion of the emigrants are likely to vote.

''The turnout may come anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000 people, which is very low,'' said Michal Garapich of Roehampton University in Britain who has carried out a survey of likely voting preferences among more than 1,000 emigrants.

Back in Poland, the election is a close race between the socially conservative party of the ruling Kaczynski brothers and the centre-right Civic Platform, which wants a more liberal economy in the former communist country of 38 million.

Emigrants are much more likely to vote for the Civic Platform opposition. Garapich's survey showed the party would have the support of about half those in Britain compared with only one eighth for the Law and Justice party of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his brother Lech, the president.

The emigrants tend to be young and very pro-Europe, in contrast to the Kaczynskis' power base built on traditionalist social policies that have played well in staunchly Catholic Poland.

The number of emigrants is larger than during the last election in 2005, when only about 35,000 Poles abroad voted.

CAMPAIGNS All the parties have campaigned in Britain and Ireland, the destinations of most Poles and polling stations will be set up in several British and Irish cities.

The Civic Platform has made a big effort. Party leader Donald Tusk flew to London and Dublin to woo emigrants with a message that he would be able to give them well-paid jobs back home.

''By going to vote we can make this possible,'' he urged Poles in London.

But the message appears lost on many Poles busy with their jobs in the city, where they have won a reputation for working longer hours for less money than locals.

Election turnout in Poland is also generally low -- barely 40 percent in the 2005 election. The fact that an even larger proportion of young people did not vote was seen as a factor in giving victory to the Kaczynskis' party.

The upcoming election was called two years early after the collapse of coalition.

Garapich said the opposition might only win a few extra votes from emigrants, but its more vigorous campaign abroad could play well back in Poland -- now facing a shortage of skilled workers because so many have left.

Builder Bielejec certainly favours the Civic Platform over the twins, but has no plan to vote.

''When people come from Poland to visit us they start chatting about politics, but when they do I just leave the room,'' he said, finishing off his beer.

REUTERS SKB PM1757

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