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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rural Votes May Swing Polish Ballot

ROSTKI, Poland -- Alina Wycech fears Poland's Catholic values are threatened, suspects a corrupt elite is trying to claw back power and distrusts the European Union despite its subsidies for her farm.

Her concerns echo those of many in the Polish countryside, which has been a heartland of support for the conservative ruling Kaczynski twins and could prove decisive in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Although the benefits of three years of EU membership are starting to shift rural attitudes, they are counterbalanced by conservatism rooted in religious devotion and suspicion of foreigners after Nazi and Soviet-imposed communist oppression.

"Perhaps modern people would love the world to become more modernized. But here, patriotism is really very important," Wycech said as pigs snuffled near her feet on the 10-hectare farm of potatoes and rye in eastern Poland.

Wycech feels that the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice party is soft on abortion -- it is not seeking a total ban -- but she will back the party for its proclaimed fight against corruption in a post-communist elite and its tough stance with EU partners.

Pollsters say Poland's countryside will be crucial to any swing in the Oct. 21 ballot because that is where many of the 20 percent of undecided voters are. Key questions will be the size of turnout and how many votes go to fringe parties.

The Euroskeptic party of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and identical twin Lech, the president, took power in 2005 with strong rural support. The prime minister's coalition fell apart last month, forcing a parliamentary ballot two years early.

No party is likely to win outright, but the vote will decide the shape of a new coalition. Law and Justice is level in polls with the center-right Civic Platform, favored by markets for its economic reform plans and more popular in the cities.

You do not need to drive far from Warsaw, past the prospering suburbs with shiny new offices and supermarkets, to reach a very different Poland, where it is harder to tell economic growth is at its fastest for a decade.

Rostki is a cluster of houses some 80 kilometers from the capital. It is set among small patches of crops, pine and birch trees in an area where the best known landmark is the World War II Nazi extermination camp of Treblinka.

Although villagers often voice approval for smaller parties -- the Peasants' Party, the farm-based Self Defense and the far right League of Polish Families -- many acknowledge they will vote for Law and Justice when they reach the ballot box.

Some analysts believe that rural voters will not back the ruling party as strongly as in 2005.

"Quite a significant group could vote for the Peasants' Party because it was always pro-EU," said Lena Bobinska of the Institute for Public Affairs in Warsaw.

She said that was "because of the money they are getting and former fears of the EU are gone."

"Bigger farmers have benefited from the European Union but not the small farms," said Henryk Wysobek, 62, a smallholder from a village near Rostki who is weighing up whether to back the Peasants' Party or Law and Justice.

Poland's countryside is home to overlapping groups that tend toward conservatism -- farmers, the deeply religious and the elderly.