WARSAW -- A pro-market lawmaker and Warsaw's socially conservative mayor appeared headed for a runoff in Poland's presidential election yesterday after neither candidate appeared to have gained the 50 percent of the vote needed, according to preliminary results and a key exit poll.
With 62 percent of the ballots counted, 35 percent of voters had backed Donald Tusk, a pro-business candidate committed to stimulating entrepreneurship with low taxes and deregulation.
Thirty-three percent voted for Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski, a former child actor hoping to preserve a strong safety net, according to the state Electoral Commission.
A state television exit poll indicated that Tusk finished with about 38 percent and Kaczynski had 32 percent. Turnout was nearly 50 percent.
If the results hold, the two former activists with the anti-communist Solidarity movement would be forced into a runoff Oct. 23.
The race in the former communist country centered on the Europe-wide issue of how far to go in sacrificing old welfare state protections for the promise of a US-style economy with fast growth and job creation.
Final results were not expected until today, the Electoral Commission said, but exit polls in Poland have proved in the past to be a reliable indicator of how the final vote will tally.
''This is a victory," Tusk proclaimed from a platform at the National Museum, where members of his Civic Platform Party gathered. ''I'm happy that millions of Poles decided it was worth going to vote and that it was worth voting for Donald Tusk."
The two front-runners barely discussed the outgoing government's plan to pull Polish troops out of Iraq by early next year.
Their parties suggested the force could stay longer, provided the country can renegotiate terms of the deployment with Washington. The deployment of about 1,500 troops is deeply unpopular in Poland.
While the prime minister and his government wield most executive power, the president is commander in chief of the armed forces, can veto laws, and can direct foreign policy by representing Poland abroad.