Sejm Marshal Bronislaw Komorowski has set June 20 as the date for the early presidential election, which will determine the successor to President Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash on April 10. Had he survived, Kaczynski would have faced reelection in the fall. The new president will most likely be Komorowski himself, who was nominated as the presidential candidate of the center-right Civil Platform party on March 28.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of the late president, seems to be the only candidate the conservative Law and Justice party has to run against Bronislaw Komorowski, 57. Party leaders seem quite certain that Jaroslaw will remain the sole nominee. But while the tragic plane crash outside Smolensk may garner him some sympathy votes, it won't be enough to put him over the top. Many Poles understand that being buried alongside kings and other great Poles in Krakow's Wawel Cathedral does not mean that you're their equal. Poles genuinely mourned for all the victims of the plane crash, but unity born of a shared tragedy and shared history doesn't translate into shared views on the future of Poland.
According to the latest public opinion polls, if the elections were held today, Komorowski would either win in the first round by 20%-25% or defeat Jaroslaw Kaczynski soundly in the run-off. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes in the first round, the run-off will be held on July 4.
Both to east of Poland and to the west, the presidential election is the subject of much attention. Under the Kaczynski twins (Jaroslaw was once the prime minister while Lech was president), Poland picked fights with Germany and Russia, and their rampant, almost paranoid nationalism perplexed the West. They led Poland into bizarre anti-Russian alliances with other eastern Europeans, which were based solely on a shared hostility to a Kremlin that "has not changed one bit on the inside."
Russia's response to the April tragedy was a wake-up call both for Poles and Russians, which isn't to say there was anything remarkable about it. Rather, the Russian leaders and the Russian people reacted as any nation would have to a tragic accident in their country that killed the president and a considerable part of the political, military and cultural elite of another country.
At Lech Kaczynski's funeral, Komorowski said, "The bells of Krakow are ringing in the name of Poles' reconciliation with other Poles... and with the Russian nation in the name of the unspeakable tragedy at Katyn." The reconciliation with Russia actually began a few days before the accident, when Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin attended the Katyn memorial ceremony.
Poland is a parliamentary republic, and although the president does not wield as much power as the prime minister, he and parliament are responsible for foreign policy and defense. The president can exert a great deal of influence over both if he so chooses. Lech Kaczynski's presidency bears this out. Kaczynski vetoed many of Tusk's initiatives as president. Tusk wanted to implement badly needed reforms, but he essentially reconciled himself to the fact that he would have to wait for a new president before he could overhaul of the country's healthcare, economy, finances and laws.
Since Tusk and Komorowski are party allies, if the latter becomes president, Poland will have the strongest, most consolidated government in its post-communist history.
Improving relations with Russia would be a natural step in Poland's foreign policy. Poland is a bridge between the east and west of Europe, and as such, it will have to normalize relations with both sides sooner or later. This will boost its regional importance, not to mention the economic benefits of being a transit country.
There is a popular saying in Warsaw's political quarters: "Poles can do a lot with Germans but nothing without them." Tusk has already established a professional relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He is moving toward the same with his Russian partners. If he continues this policy, Europe should really start worrying. As The Economist put it the other day, "Poles-Germans-Russians; that is the axis that will shape the next decade in Europe." That may be a bit overblown, but there is some truth to it.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin)