Poland party leader vows more social benefits ahead of votes


WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s ruling party leader has pledged more social benefits for families with children and for the elderly as he opened the right-wing party’s campaign ahead of key elections this year.

Speaking at a party convention Saturday, Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced an upgrade to the generous social program of his Law and Justice party, a policy that has kept the party top of the political polls since it won power in 2015.

But opinion polls show the party could lose to a united opposition in the European Parliament election in May and in a vote for Poland’s national parliament in the fall.

Kaczynski, Poland’s most powerful politician, is also facing recent allegations of soliciting a bribe and unlawful participation in business negotiations.

He called urged supporters to rally for the party ahead of the elections. His speech drew applause and chants of “Jaroslaw, Jaroslaw!” from party members.

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But it also drew criticism from the opposition and economists about the high cost of his promises, at a time when Poland’s health care and education systems remain strapped.

Kaczynski promised to expand family benefits to cover every child, abolish taxes for young employees and raise payouts for retirees. He promised to restore bus connections among small towns and villages that were cancelled years ago as unprofitable.

He said the decisions aim to improve “the quality of life, an increase in our freedom and equality” as Poland tries to catch up with richer western Europe.

Prime Minister Premier Mateusz Morawiecki estimated the costs of the program at up to 40 billion zlotys (9 billion euros) a year, but said he knows how to finance it.

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