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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » April 30, 2010
The Show Must Go On
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The Show Must Go On
April 30, 2010   
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Emerging from nine days of national mourning, Poland is preparing for early elections in June to choose a new head of state after the air crash that killed President Lech Kaczyński, his wife and dozens of top officials.

“This has pressed the reset button on Polish politics,” Jarosław Sellin, a popular right-wing politician, said of the April 10 tragedy near Smolensk, western Russia—the worst disaster in Poland’s postwar history.

Law and Justice (PiS), the largest opposition party, was particularly hard hit by the air tragedy. Aside from Lech Kaczyński, who was elected president in 2005 as the PiS candidate, the party lost many key politicians and supporters holding high-profile posts.

Along with the tragic death of his twin brother, PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński is facing a difficult personal situation. His 83-year-old mother, Jadwiga Kaczyńska, is suffering from a serious heart condition and has been hospitalized for weeks. Since the catastrophe, she has been cut off from any news from the outside world because her doctors fear she is too weak to endure the shock of her son’s death.

On April 19, Jarosław Kaczyński spoke for the first time in public since the disaster, authorizing Adam Lipiński, the deputy PiS chairman, to oversee day-to-day running of the party.

Huge pressure
At the same time, Jarosław Kaczyński faces a major decision: whether he should try to carry out his brother’s legacy and run in the presidential elections, which are scheduled for June 20, with the second round set for July 4. The pressure is tremendous. “I believe Jarosław Kaczyński is the natural candidate,” said Maks Kraczkowski, the secretary of the PiS Political Council. “Such is public opinion and such are the party’s expectations.” Similar views have been expressed by PiS politicians and PiS supporters interviewed by polling centers.

The date of the early presidential elections was announced April 21 by lower house Speaker Bronisław Komorowski, who is acting president as specified by the constitution. Komorowski is also the presidential candidate of the Civic Platform (PO), the senior party in the ruling coalition. Both before and after April 10, he has been the hands-down leader in opinion polls.

With the election barely seven weeks away, political parties had until April 26 to notify the State Election Commission about setting up their electoral committees and to submit their candidates’ consents, complete with at least 1,000 signatures of supporters. By May 6, the electoral committees will have to submit declarations of support for the candidates, each signed by 100,000 people. Due to the extremely short deadlines, it is almost certain that only the strongest political formations will manage to put forward candidates—unlike in previous elections when more than 10 candidates took part. Apart from Komorowski and the candidate of PiS—whoever that may be—those who stand a chance of contesting the first election round are Andrzej Olechowski, a popular independent politician backed by the Democratic Party (SD); Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Waldemar Pawlak, the candidate of the junior ruling coalition partner, the Polish People’s Party (PSL); and Grzegorz Napieralski, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the second largest opposition party in the parliament. SLD’s original presidential candidate, Jerzy Szmajdziński, also perished in the crash.

PiS worst hit
But it is PiS that sustained the heaviest losses from the disaster, including PiS caucus head Grażyna Gęsicka, deputy lower house Speaker Krzysztof Putra, PiS deputy chairs Przemysław Gosiewski and Aleksandra Natalli-¦wiat, lower house deputy Zbigniew Wassermann and senators Stanisław Zaj±c and Janina Fetlińska.

In the past several months, most of them were on the front line of their party’s battles with the ruling Civic Platform. For example, Gęsicka delivered a number of critical speeches about the government’s social policy and Natalli-¦wiat produced scathing attacks on government financial policy. Wasserman was the main voice of PiS in the parliamentary commission probing a scandal in which senior politicians from PO allegedly lobbied illegally to help casino owners. Gosiewski was the main coordinator of all local PiS formations since the party was founded, and he was widely considered to be chief of staff in “the army” of the Kaczyński twins.

The presidential plane crash also killed Janusz Kurtyka, the president of the National Remembrance Institute (IPN) who was closely linked to PiS, and central bank governor Sławomir Skrzypek, regarded as a strong supporter of the Kaczyńskis. Skrzypek recently engaged in an open conflict with Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski over the economic policy of the government.

During the days of national mourning, most politicians expressed hope the Smolensk tragedy would transform Poland’s public life for the better so it is less about conflicts and more about productive debate, free from vicious personal attacks and brutal criticism. But it is hard to imagine that the shortest presidential campaign in Poland’s history will be conducted in such an idyllic atmosphere.
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