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From the editor
June 17, 2010   
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The position of the Polish president is a peculiar one. I don’t know if there is any other country where a president with such limited powers is chosen directly by voters rather than by parliament. For a combination of reasons, in Poland, a huge public mandate is held by someone who has destructive (the right of veto) rather than creative powers and other than that has a mostly honorary and ceremonial role to play. This explains why all the presidents elected so far under the current constitution have tried to increase their powers, thereby provoking more or less serious conflicts with the government—even when the government and the president hailed from the same political movement.

Voices can therefore be heard in Polish politics that times have changed and that it’s time to change the president’s powers—by moving more consistently in one direction or the other. For now, neither idea—a strong president chosen in a direct vote or a weaker president chosen by parliament—has gained the required majority, especially as the situation in which the government and parliament can keep each other in check also has its supporters.

So, as it stands, we will be choosing the new president according to the old rules. But this will be an unusual president in an absolutely unusual situation.

Before April 10 the presidential campaign promised to be a tough clash of the two largest parties, the Civic Platform (PO) and Law and Justice (PiS). Their initial contenders, Bronisław Komorowski and Lech Kaczyński, were not the leaders of their parties. In addition, Kaczyński as the incumbent president was to go into the elections with the record of what he had done during his term in office.

The tragic crash of the presidential plane in which Kaczyński was killed changed the situation completely. At least three new factors emerged. First, Jarosław Kaczyński, the late president’s twin brother and the leader of PiS, decided to run for president. Second, the tragedy made the late president’s supporters more active. And third, Jarosław Kaczyński modified his platform substantially by moving toward the political center.

After the election campaign got under way, the chances of the two main contenders began to even out, but as the two-month race gained momentum, support for the two front-runners returned to its original level, with Komorowski well ahead.

On election day, voters will choose a president who will have to face some tough challenges. We can only hope that he doesn’t focus exclusively on supporting his own political group ahead of the local government elections later this year and the parliamentary elections next year.
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