Polish leader eyes quick election after crash

By Gabriela Baczynska

WARSAW (BestGrowthStock) – Poland’s acting president vowed on Tuesday to move swiftly to set an election date and remove uncertainty after the deaths of President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other high-ranking officials in a plane crash.

The coffin of Kaczynski’s wife Maria was received by family members, top military officials and senior Catholic clergy at a somber ceremony at Warsaw airport before being driven to the presidential palace to lie in state alongside her husband.

Thousands of Poles lined the 10-kilometre (6-mile) route to the city center, showering the hearse carrying the popular first lady with flowers in a repeat of the moving procession that brought the president’s body home on Sunday.

Kaczynski, a combative nationalist known for his distrust of both the European Union and Russia, had been traveling to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish officers by Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest in western Russia when his plane went down on Saturday in thick fog.

A total of 96 people died in the crash, including Polish military commanders, top opposition figures and the central bank governor, plunging the country into mourning and bringing forward a presidential vote originally scheduled for October.

Bronislaw Komorowski, the lower house speaker and a member of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s centrist Civic Platform (PO), had been expected to easily beat Kaczynski in the election.

But popular sympathy for him and other victims of the plane crash has made it harder to predict the outcome.

“The election date must be set,” Komorowski told TVP Info television, promising to announce the date on Wednesday. “This must be done as soon as possible to shorten the period in which Poland is in a period of uncertainty.”

TWIN BROTHER MOURNS

Legislators, religious leaders and relatives of the dead, many in tears, packed into parliament for a special joint session to honor the victims on Tuesday. Red and white flowers, the colors of the Polish flag, and photos of parliamentarians who perished were placed on their vacant seats.

The deceased president’s identical twin brother Jaroslaw, who heads the right-wing opposition party Law and Justice, stood alone in the front row of the chamber as a quartet played American composer Samuel Barber’s melancholy Adagio for Strings.

The surviving twin’s party must now move quickly to come up with a candidate to take on Komorowski for the presidency.

According to the Polish constitution, the election must take place within 60 days of the announcement. As elections are always held on a Sunday and June 5 is a major religious holiday in staunchly Roman Catholic Poland, the most likely dates for the vote appear to be May 30 or June 13.

Polish markets have remained stable following the crash, with stocks and the zloty currency little changed on Tuesday after inching higher on Monday.

The muted reaction reflects in part the fact that policy in Poland is driven primarily by the government and not the president, whose powers are limited to vetoing laws and representing the country on the international stage.

Russian Health Minister Tatyana Golikova said on Tuesday that half of the 96 bodies had been identified so far and that genetic identification would be completed by Wednesday April 21.

QUESTIONS OVER FLIGHT

Kaczynski and his entourage were traveling in an aged Russian-built Tupolev aircraft when it crashed near Smolensk airport after hitting treetops on its fourth landing attempt.

Some media have speculated that Kaczynski himself may have ordered the pilot to ignore weather warnings from Russian air traffic controllers, but prosecutors have said they have no evidence to support that.

Russian officials have recovered the two cockpit voice recorders and are decoding them.

“The provisional analysis showed there was no explosion or fire on board. The engines were in working order right until they hit the ground,” said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov.

A memorial service for all of the victims is to be held in Warsaw on Saturday and the funeral of Kaczynski and his wife is expected on Sunday. Some officials said they could be buried at Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, the ancient capital and seat of the Polish kings.

Numerous heads of state and government, including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are expected to attend.

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(Additional reporting by Pawel Sobczak, Kuba Jaworowski, Chris Borowski and Karolina Slowikowska; writing by Noah Barkin; editing by Andrew Roche)

Polish leader eyes quick election after crash