WARSAW Poland's conservative Kaczynski twins were heavily defeated in a parliamentary election on Sunday by a centre-right opposition party ready to speed economic reforms and mend relations with EU allies.
The Civic Platform's victory over the ruling Law and Justice party, with the biggest turnout since the fall of communism nearly two decades ago, appeared to be a rejection of two years of turbulent rule by the nationalist twins.
Exit polls showed the Civic Platform won around 44 percent of the vote. Law and Justice had just over 30 percent.
Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski conceded defeat. His brother Lech, the president, does not face an election until 2010 but opposition parties together looked set to get enough seats to trump his power to veto legislation.
"For many weeks we have been convincing Poles that life in Poland can be better, that Poles deserve a better government," Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk said after the exit polls.
"We are moved that Poles went to cast their ballots," said Tusk, expected to be Poland's next prime minister.
The Civic Platform appeared to be a few seats short of being able to govern alone, but should form a coalition easily with either the centrist Peasants' Party or a leftist bloc. It was the best result by any party in the post-communist era.
"We have failed against a wide front," the prime minister said after the exit polls. "We will be a decisive, tough opposition."
The election was called two years early after the last coalition collapsed amid acrimony over a corruption investigation.
The Platform is favoured by financial markets, which expect reforms such as tax cuts and privatisation that would also help the country of 38 million towards adopting the euro currency.
A senior Platform politician said Poland could adopt the euro by 2012-13.
The Platform has said it would seek to pull Polish troops out of the U.S.-led force in Iraq, but does not oppose Washington's plan to put installations for its controversial missile shield in Poland.
Above all, it aims to rebuild ties with EU partners such as Germany that have been badly strained under the Kaczynskis.
"There will be a huge change in style. Poland's credibility will be rebuilt," said Zbigniew Lewicki of Warsaw University.
"We have a chance to become a normal European country. This is the end of a dark period for this country. It is over now and it is over before serious damage had been done."
The Kaczynskis had put the fight against post-communist corruption at the heart of their campaign.
Their power base is in rural areas that feel left out by the changes since the fall of communism as well as among older and more religious Poles. The opposition draws greater strength from the booming cities and among youths.
Turnout was over 55 percent, the highest for a parliamentary election since 1989.
Exit polls indicated that the opposition parties would together get the three-fifths of the 460 seats that they need in the lower house of parliament to be able to stop the president using his veto powers as long as they are united.
Full results are expected on Tuesday. Exit polls tend to be a fair reflection of the eventual result.