25/05/2010 - Analysis - 1st round
On 10th April Bronislaw Komorowski, President of the Sejm, the lower Chamber of the Parliament was appointed interim President of the Republic after the accidental death of the Head of State Lech Kaczynski (Law and Justic, PiS). The latter was elected on 23rd October 2005 as head of Poland beating present Prime Minister Donald Tusk (Civic Platform, PO) with 54.47% against 45.53% of the vote. Lech Kaczynski would undoubtedly have stood for election again in the next presidential election which was planned for the autumn of this year.
During the morning of 10th April the latter together with his wife, Maria, and 96 other people died when the plane in which they were travelling crashed in Petchorsk in the region of Smolensk (Russia) probably because of thick fog which made landing difficult. The presidential delegation was travelling to Katyn to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the execution of 22,000 Polish officers by the Soviet Secret Services – a crime that was attributed to the Nazis in the official history books before USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledged in 1990 that the crime was his country's responsibility. 70 years after this terrible crime Katyn has once more been set down in Polish history as a doomed place.
Within the space of an instant Poland was decapitated. Apart from its President it also lost its Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrzej Kremer, Culture Minister Tomasz Merta, Defence Minister, Jerzy Komorowski, the governor of the Polish Central Bank Slawomir Skrzpek, former Head of State in exile in London during the Communist era, Ryszard Kaczorowski, Vice-President of the Diet, Krzysztof Putra, Vice-President of the Senate, the Upper Chamber of Parliament Krystyna Bochenek, Chief of Staff Major Franciszek Gagor, Commander in Chief of Operational Forces, General Bronislaw Kwiatkowski, Commander in Chief of the Air Force General Andrzej Blasik, Commander in Chief of the Special Forces, General Wlodzimierz Potasinki, Commander in Chief of the Navy Vice-Admiral Andrzej Karweta, and finally former heroine of the naval shipyard strikes in Gdansk in 1980, Anna Walentynowicz. 18 MPs and several representatives of the church and various associations also perished in the catastrophe. The PiS was the most affected party, Przemyslaw Gosiewski and Aleksandra Natalli-Swiat, member of the party's policy committee were among the victims – and from the other end of the political scale – leftwing candidate in the presidential election, Vice-President of the Sejm, Jerzy Szmajdzinski.
With his death Lech Kaczynski, who was a controversial, conservative, anti-liberal, euro-sceptic personality who had a difficult relationship with his Russian and German neighbours, became a martyr in just a few hours. The man who launched a real witch-hunt against all of those, who in his opinion "collaborated" with the Communist authorities or who did not resist enough, had managed to divide Poland when he was alive. Because of the circumstances surrounding his death he was buried in Wawel, the name of the crypt in the cathedral of Krakow in which the greatest personalities in Polish national history lie, such as poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) and Marshall Jozef Pilsudski, father of the country's independence in 1918.
A paradox of history: the death of Lech Kaczynski, the President who was more than mistrustful of the authorities in power in Russia certainly helped to bring Warsaw and Moscow closer together. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin immediately travelled to the place of the dramatic accident and declared a national day of mourning – two days later Russian TV broadcast the film Katyn on prime time – a film made by Andrzej Wajda in 2007. Russian empathy which was conveyed both diplomatically and symbolically was exemplary. "Poland experienced a major tragedy on 10th April last and Poles really appreciated the sympathy expressed by millions of Russians. We are grateful to you for every tear shed, each candle lit, for each sign of compassion," declared Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the deceased Head of State's twin brother and leader of the PiS. "There are times that can change the course of history. I hope and this is shared by millions of Poles that such a time is close – that a great and necessary change will occur for the good of all, for our children and our grand-children," he added. For his part Bronislaw Komorowski challenged the declarations made by his political adversary. "In theory Jaroslaw Kaczynski may have rid himself of his xenophobia but in practice that is highly unlikely. The Poles have a long memory. We heard the words of the Law and Justice Party leader but his acts count much more than words," he stressed.
The Presidential Post in Poland
The role of the President of the Republic is officially honorary. In reality however he exercises significant influence. He is elected for five years and has the right to veto, which the Sejm, the Lower Chamber of Parliament, can reject but the majority of three fifths of the votes and the attendance of at least half of the MP's is however required. The President of the Republic can also decide alone to hold a national referendum – but this measure is resorted to rarely due to the low turnout rates that are usually recorded; he is the head of the armed forces, ratifies international agreements, appoints, dismisses ambassadors and exercises and enjoys the right of reprieve by which he may annul decisions taken by the courts on appeal. The Polish Constitution stipulates that the President of the Republic can only undertake two terms in office.
Present Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said on several occasions that he wanted to reduce the Head of State's powers, which according to political analyst Pawel Swieboda, "would put an end to the country's chronic political instability."
Any candidate standing for the Presidency of the Republic must be aged at least 35 and had to deliver at least 1,000 voters' signatures to the Polish Electoral Commission by 26th April. They were only registered as candidates after the delivery of 100, 000 signatures before 6th May. If none of the candidates running manages to win an absolute majority in the first round of voting on 20th June a second round will be organised two weeks later on 4th July.
10 people are officially running for the supreme office:
- Bronislaw Komorowski (PO), Marshall (chair) of the Sejm, former Defence Minister (2000-2001), interim President of the Republic since the death of Lech Kaczynski;
- Jaroslaw Kaczynski (PiS), twin brother of the deceased President and former Prime Minister (2006-2007) ;
- Waldemar Pawlak (Polish Peasants' Party, PSL), present Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister in Donald Tusk's government;
- Grzegorz Napieralski (Democratic Left Alliance, SLD), leader of the main leftwing party and the youngest of all of the candidates (36 years old);
- Marek Jurek (Law of the Republic of Poland, PR), former chair of the Diet (2005-2007);
- Boguslaw Zietek (Labour Party, PPP), chairman of the Union Confederation WZZ Sierpien 80 lying to the left of the political scale;
- Kornel Morawiecki, historic leader of the union Fighting Solidarnosc;
- Janusz Korwin-Mikke (Freedom and Rule of Law, WiP), former leader of the Political Union and supporter of the monarchy;
- Andrzej Olechowski, independent candidate suppported by the Democratic Party (SD), former member of Civic Platform (PO) which he left in 2009 ; he was also the co-founder of this party with Donald Tusk and Maciej Plazynski (who died in the plane crash on 10th April last) and former Finance and Foreign Minister.
- Andrzej Lepper - Self-Defence of Poland-Samoobrona, S), former Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister (2005-2007)
Former Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper (Self-Defence of Poland-Samoobrona, S) convicted of blackmail and accusations of corruption against members of Civic Platform and the Democratic Left Alliance, was not allowed to stand in this election.
A very special electoral campaign
Once the funeral of President Lech Kaczynksi had taken place one issue was at the forefront of everyone's mind in Poland: what was to be done with his brother Jaroslaw? Would he stand to succeed his brother?
"I am convinced that Jaroslaw Kaczynski will stand. On the one hand he will want to implement his brother's will and complete his work. On the other hand his party has no other candidate of that quality to compete against Bronislaw Komorowski," said Stanislaw Mocek, a political analyst at the Polish Science Academy. The latter was right since on 26th April the former Prime Minister declared, "Poland is our great joint destiny. It demands that we overcome personal suffering and that duty be fulfilled in spite of personal tragedy. This is why I have decided to stand for the Presidency of the Republic of Poland," Jaroslaw Kaczynski obtained 1.65 million signatures in his support, Bronislaw Komorowski 769,000.
Running favourite in the presidential election Bronislaw Komorowski will however find matters difficult. Interim Head of State he cannot afford to make any mistakes but due to his position he enjoys a major advantage. He was appointed as the Civic Platform's candidate after the primary election in which he stood against Radoslaw Sikorksi at the end of March 2010. During this election he won with 68.5% of the vote against 31.5% for his rival who was disadvantaged because he had been Foreign Minister in the government led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski and a member of Civic Platform for only a short time.
"I shall do everything possible to help Bronislaw Komorowski win the presidential election because he would make a perfect head of state," declared Prime Minister Donald Tusk. "If we lose this election Poland will be destabilised. Economic stability has become Poland's brand image. But we must not forget that this is only a recent phenomenon," he added in an interview with the daily Gazeta Wyborcza. Poland is the only EU country not to have experienced recession in 2009 (a GDP rise of 1.8%). If Bronislaw Komorowski wins the PO will recover its position of strength just one year before the general elections planned for the autumn of 2011 – a position that no party has experienced in Poland since the fall of Communism in 1989.
"It's a special electoral campaign. Until now Civic Platform seemed able to win the presidential election with promises of stability and good governance. Today, this is no longer the case," indicated Pawel Swieboda, director of the think tank Demos Europa. "Civic Platform seems to be in a defensive position," adds Jacek Raciborski, political expert at the University of Warsaw who adds, "I still think that Bronislaw Komorowski will win the election but Jaroslaw Kaczynski can still increase his number of votes." "Voters on the radical right have no other choice but to support Jaroslaw Kaczynski, it would therefore be wise for him to try and attract voters from the centre," says Radoslaw Markowski at the Polish Science Academy.
The electoral campaign will necessarily be short. "The campaign will be calm and silent, without conflict," stressed MEP Lena Kolarska Bobinska some days after the accident on 10th April. Jaroslaw Kaczynski's participation in this election may however prove this forecast wrong – the former Prime Minister's party which may benefit from a rise in popularity after the tragic death of the outgoing Head of State wants to defend its chances in the face of Bronislaw Komorowski. In addition to this no-one can foretell the way the emotion caused by the outgoing President's death and the period of national mourning will emerge in the urns.
According to the latest poll Bronislaw Komorowski is due to win 43.7% of the vote in the first round on 20th June and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 33.9%. The other seven candidates are not due to have much influence.
I have been watching Polish political life since 1989 and I have learnt that we should never use words such as 'Certainly' and 'Never' when we talk of the future. However today it seems unlikely that a candidate will be the source of surprise in the face of the two main candidates, Bronislaw Komorowski and Jaroslaw Kaczynski," indicated Tomasz Zukowski, sociologist and advisor to the deceased President.
Source : Gazeta Wyborcza