Can Poland's new president deliver political stability?

By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw

image captionMr Komorowski is expected to work closely with the government

Bronislaw Komorowski's election as Polish president sets up a rare period of calm and cohesiveness on the country's political scene and will be welcomed in Berlin and Brussels.

In the tightest presidential contest in 15 years the results swung back and forth overnight between Mr Komorowski and his rival, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the identical twin of the late president, Lech, who was killed in a plane crash in Russia in April.

Mr Komorowski, 58, who has aristocratic roots and was interned for his opposition activities by the communist authorities in the 1980s, is widely regarded as a moderate.

He represents stability because he is the candidate of the governing Civic Platform Party.

He is expected to work closely with the government on its programme of free market reforms and closer engagement with the country's European Union partners and Russia.

In Poland the presidency is a largely ceremonial role, but the president can block legislation through the power of veto, something Lech Kaczynski used regularly.

"This will be a more stable, predictable cohesive period for the country, one we have never had before," Pawel Swieboda, head of the demosEUROPA think-tank, told the BBC.

"He will be a supportive president with the government in the driver's seat and he being more of a helping hand. He will focus on representative functions, social dialogue and discussing future challenges," he said.

Without the presidential veto as an excuse the government will now be under pressure to present a clear plan to tackle the budget deficit, structural reforms and reduce bureaucracy in business.

"It will force Civic Platform to come out with its own set of ideas. They will have no excuses and will have to start acting.

"It will be a very different period to anything we've seen so far and an opportunity for long-term planning," Mr Swieboda said.

However, with parliamentary elections looming in just over a year, Poland's cautious Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, may be reluctant to damage his government's chances of being re-elected, something no other administration has achieved since communism ended in 1989.

Attitude change

Those elections will feature the 61-year-old Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

He may not be president but his remarkable result provides a platform for his socially conservative and state interventionist opposition Law and Justice Party to challenge for power.

Bearing in mind that Poles voted Mr Kaczynski, a combative former prime minister out of office three years ago, his result crowned a superbly-fought campaign.

"I think he ran a smart campaign. He has moved to the centre ground and combined newly-found moderate views with assertiveness which appeals to people," Mr Swieboda said.

When you offer a twist of social inclusiveness in domestic policy, it's an appealing message," he added.

image captionJaroslaw Kaczynski revitalised his image in the election campaign

Mr Kaczynski was also helped by the sympathy Poles felt for the families of the victims of April's plane crash.

Before the tragedy, Jaroslaw Kaczynski was regularly voted one of the country's least-trusted politicians.

His divisive and antagonistic stance as prime minister, during which he seemed bent on leading what some described as a witch-hunt against former communist officials, was still fresh in people's memories.

Mr Kaczynski's political views are shaped largely by his belief that the communists merely swapped political power for economic influence during the negotiated transition to democracy.

During the campaign he dropped the anti-communist slogans and even called the former party chief, Edward Gierek, a patriot.

He also changed his attitude towards Poland's neighbours and old foes, Russia and Germany.

Together with his brother, he once irritated German officials with a proposal that the EU take into account Poland's six million World War II victims when allocating voting rights.

During the campaign he made positive noises about Germany and recorded a moving broadcast to Russians for their help in assisting the families of the plane crash.

His repeated insistence, however, that Poland take over the crash investigation did imply criticism of Russia's handling of the affair.

He has clearly benefited from his more moderate approach and will probably not want to be seen as being a largely destructive force in the run-up to next year's ballot.

The other winner from these elections has been the former communists, now re-branded as social democrats.

Voted out of office five years ago following numerous sleaze scandals, the left-wing's young personable leader, Grzegorz Napieralski, won a reasonable third place in the first round, signalling a return to influence.

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